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New York State Colleges 


Agriculture and Home Economics 

Cornell University 


Cornell University 

The original of this book is in 
the Cornell University Library. 

There are no known copyright restrictions in 
the United States on the use of the text. 












First Published 1007 

Second Edition (Methuen &° Co. Ltd.) Revised and Enlarged . jqzo 
Third Edition 1921 

These Essays are reprinted by the courtesy of the Proprietor 
of " The Pall Mall Gazette." 






' I k HE original " Bee-Master of Warrilow " — 
■*■ that queer little honey-coloured book of far- 
off days — contained but eleven chapters : in its 
present edition the book has grown to more than 
three times its former length, and constitutes prac- 
tically a new volume. 

To those who knew and loved the old " Bee- 
Master of Warrilow," no apology for the 
additional chapters will be required, because it is 
directly to the solicitation of many of them that this 
larger collection of essays on English bee-garden 
life owes its appearance. And equally, to those who 
will make the old bee-man's acquaintance for the 
first time in these present pages, little need be said. 
In spite of the War, the honey-bee remains the same 
mysterious, fascinating creature that she has ever 
been; and the men who live by the fruit of her toil 
share with her the like changeless quality. The 
Master of Warrilow and his bees can very well be 
left to win their own way into the hearts of new 

readers as they did with the old. 

T. E. 
The Red Cottage, 

Burpham, Arundel, 









































A corner IN the BEE-GARDEN ; Frontispiece 

brood-comb, showing two sizes of cell Facing page 24 











AMONG the beautiful things of the country- 
side, which are slowly but surely passing 
away, must be reckoned the old Bee Gardens — 
fragrant, sunny nooks of blossom, where the bees 
are housed only in the ancient straw skeps, and have 
their, own way -in everything, the work of the bee- 
keeper being little more than a placid looking-on at 
events of which it would have been heresy to doubt 
the finite perfection. 

To say, however, that modern ideas of progress 
in bee-farming must inevitably rob the pursuit of all 
its old-world poetry and picturesqueness, would be 
to represent the case in an unnecessarily bad light. 
The latter-day beehive, it is true, has little more 
aesthetic value than a Brighton bathing-machine; 
and the new class of bee-keepers, which is spring- 
ing up all over the country, is composed mainly of 
people who have taken to the calling as they would 
to any other lucrative business, having, for the 
most part, nothing but a good-humoured contempt 
alike for the old-fashioned bee-keeper and the 
ancient traditions and superstitions of his craft. 

Nor can the inveterate, old-time skeppist himself 
— the man who obstinately shuts his eyes to all that 
is good and true in modern bee-science — be counted 



on to help in the preservation of the beautiful old 
gardens, or in keeping alive customs which have 
been handed down from generation to generation, 
almost unaltered, for literally thousands of years. 
Here and there, in the remoter parts of the country, 
men can still be found who keep their bees much 
in the same way as bees were kept in the time of 
Columella or Virgil; and are content with as little 
profit. But these form a rapidly diminishing class. 
The advantages of modern methods are too over- 
whelmingly apparent. The old school must choose 
between the adoption of latter-day systems, or 
suffer the only alternative — that of total extinction 
at no very distant date. 

Luckily for English bee-keeping, there is a third 
class upon which the hopes of all who love the 
ancient ways and days, and yet recognise the 
absorbing interest and value of modern research in 
apiarian science, may legitimately rely. Born and 
bred amongst the hives, and steeped from their 
earliest years in the lore of their skeppist forefathers, 
these interesting folk seem, nevertheless, imbued 
to the core with the very spirit of progress. While 
retaining an unlimited affection for all the quaint 
old methods in bee-keeping, they maintain them- 
selves, unostentatiously, but very thoroughly, 
abreast of the times. Nothing new is talked of in 
the world of bees that these people do not make 
trial of, and quietly adopt into their daily practice, 
if really serviceable; or as quietly discard, if the 
contrivance prove to have little else than novelty to 
recommend it. 

As a rule, they are reserved, silent men, difficult 
of approach; and yet, when once on terms of 


familiarity, they make the most charming of 
companions. Then they are ever ready to talk 
about their bees, or discuss the latest improvements 
in apiculture; to explain the intricacies of bee-life, 
as revealed by the foremost modern observers, or 
to dilate by the hour on the astounding delusions 
of mediaeval times. But they all seem to possess 
one invariable characteristic — that of whole-hearted 
reverence for the customs of their immediate ances- 
tors, their own fathers and grandfathers. In a long 
acquaintance with bee-men of this class, I have 
never yet met with one who could be trapped into 
any decided admission of defect in the old methods, 
which — to say truth — were often as senseless as they 
were futile, even when not directly contrary to the 
interest of the bee-owner, or the plain, obvious dic- 
tates of humanity. In this they form a refreshing 
contrast to the ultra-modern, pushing young 
apiculturist of to-day; and it is as a type of this 
class that the Bee-Master of Warrilow is presented 
to the reader. 




T ONG, lithe, and sinewy, with three score 
•*-' years of sunburn on his keen, gnarled face, 
and the sure stride of a mountain goat, the Bee- 
Master of Warrilow struck you at once as a notable 
figure in any company. 

Warrilow is a little precipitous village tucked 
away under the green brink of the Sussex Downs; 
and the bee-farm lay on the southern slope of the 
hill, with a sheltering barrier of pine above, in 
which, all day long, the winter wind kept up an 
impotent complaining. But below, among the 
hives, nothing stirred in the frosty, sun-riddled air. 
Now and again a solitary worker-bee darted up from 
a hive door, took a brisk turn or two in the dazzling 
light, then hurried home again to the warm cluster. 
But the flash and quiver of wings, and the drowsy 
song of summer days, were gone in the iron-bound 
January weather; and the bee-master was lounging 
idly to and fro in the great main-way of the waxen 
B 17 


city, shot-gun under arm, and with apparently 
nothing more to do than to meditate over past 
achievements, or to plan out operations for the 
season to come. 

As I approached, the sharp report of the gun rang 
out, and a little cloud of birds went chippering 
fearsomely away over the hedgerow. The old man 
watched them as they flew off dark against the 
snowy hillside. He threw out the cartridge-cases 

" Blue-tits!" said he. " They are the great pest 
of the bee-keeper in winter time. When the snow 
covers the ground, and the frost has driven all 
insect-life deep into the crevices of the trees, all the 
blue-caps for miles round trek to the bee-gardens. 
Of course, if the bees would only keep indoors they 
would be safe enough. But the same cause that 
drives the birds in lures the bees out. The snow 
reflects the sunlight up through the hive-entrances, 
and they think the bright days of spring have come, 
and out they flock to their death. And winter is 
just the time when every single bee is valuable. In 
summer a few hundreds more or less make little 
difference, when in every hive young bees are 
maturing at the rate of several thousands a day 
to take the place of those that perish. But now 
every bee captured by the tits is an appreciable loss 
to the colony. They are all nurse-bees in the winter- 
hives, and on them depends the safe hatching-out of 
the first broods in the spring season. So the bee- 
keeper would do well to include a shot-gun among 
his paraphernalia, unless he is willing to feed all the 
starving tits of the countryside at the risk of his 
year's harvest," 


" But the blue-cap," he went on, " is not always 
content to wait for his breakfast until the bees 
voluntarily bring it to him. He has a trick of 
enticing them out of the hive which is often success- 
ful even in the coldest weather. Come into the 
extracting-house yonder, and I may be able to show 
you what I mean." 

He led the way to a row of outbuildings which 
flanked the northern boundary of the garden and 
formed additional shelter from the blustering gale. 
A window of the extracting-house overlooked the 
whole extent of hives. Opening this from within 
with as little noise as possible, the bee-master put a 
strong field-glass into my hand. 

" Now that we are out of sight," he said, " the 
tits will soon be back again. There they come — 
whole families of them together! Now watch that 
green hive over there under the apple-tree." 

Looking through the glass, I saw that about a 
dozen tits had settled in the tree. Their bright 
plumage contrasted vividly with the sober green 
and grey of the lichened boughs, as they swung 
themselves to and fro in the sunshine. But 
presently the boldest of them gave up this pretence 
of searching for food among the branches, and 
hopped down upon the alighting-board of the hive. 
At once two or three others followed him; and then 
began an ingenious piece of business. The little 
company fell to pecking at the hard wood with 
their bills, striking out a sharp ringing tattoo 
plainly audible even where we lay hidden. The old 
bee-man snorted contemptuously, and the cart- 
ridges slid home into the breech of his gun with a 
vicious snap. 


" Now keep an eye on the hive-entrance," he 
said grimly. 

The glass was a good one. Now I could 
plainly make out a movement in this direction. 
The noise and vibration made by the birds outside 
had roused the slumbering colony to a sense of 
danger. About a dozen bees ran out to see what it 
all meant, and were immediately pounced upon. 
And then the gun spoke over my head. It was a 
shot into the air, but it served its harmless purpose. 
From every bush and tree there came over to 
us a dull whirr of wings like far-off thunder, as 
the blue marauders sped away for the open 
country, filling the air with their frightened jingling 

Perhaps of all cosy retreats from the winter blast 
it has ever been my good fortune to discover, the 
extracting-room on Warrilow bee-farm was the 
brightest and most comfortable. In summer-time 
the whole life of the apiary centred here; and the 
stress and bustle, inevitable during the season of 
the great honey-flow, obscured its manifold possi- 
bilities. But in winter the extracting-machines were, 
for the most part, silent; and the natural serenity 
and cosiness of the place reasserted themselves 
triumphantly. From the open furnace-door a 
ruddy warmth and glow enriched every nook and 
corner of the long building. The walls were lined 
with shelves where the polished tin vessels, in 
which the surplus honey was stored, gave back 
the fire-shine in a hundred flickering points of amber 
light. The work of hive-making in the neighbour- 
ing sheds was going briskly forward, but the noise 
of hammering, the shrill hum of sawing and planing 


machinery, and the intermittent cough of the oil- 
engine reached us only as a subdued, tranquil 
murmur — the very voice of rest. 

The bee-master closed the window behind its thick 
bee-proof curtains, and, putting his gun away in a 
corner, drew a comfortable high-backed settle near 
to the cheery blaze. Then he disappeared for a 
moment, and returned with a dusty cobweb-shrouded 
bottle, which he carried in a wicker cradle as a 
butler would bear priceless old wine. The cork 
came out with a ringing jubilant report, and the 
pale, straw-coloured liquid foamed into the glasses 
like champagne. It stilled at once, leaving the 
whole inner surface of the glass veneered with 
golden bells. The old bee-man held it up critically 
against the light. 

" The last of 19—," he said, regretfully. " The 
finest mead year in this part of the country for 
many a decade back. Most people have never 
tasted the old Anglo-Saxon drink that King Alfred 
loved, and probably Harold's men made merry with 
on the eve of Hastings. So they can't be expected 
to know that metheglin varies with each season as 
much as wine from the grape." 

Of the goodness of the liquor there admitted no 
question. It had the bouquet of a ripe Ribston 
pippin, and the potency of East Indian sherry thrice 
round the Horn. But its flavour entirely eluded 
all attempt at comparison. There was a sugges- 
tive note of fine old perry about it, and a dim 
reminder of certain almost colourless Rhenish wines, 
never imported, and only to be encountered in 
moments of rare and happy chance. Yet neither of 
these parallels came within a sunbeam's length of 


the truth about this immaculate honey-vintage of 
Warrilow. Pondering over the liquor thus, the 
thought came to me that nothing less than a 
supreme occasion could have warranted its 
production to-day. And this conjecture was immedi- 
ately verified. The bee-master raised his glass 
above his head. 

"To the Bees of Warrilow!" he said, lapsing 
into the broad Sussex dialect, as he always did when 
much moved by his theme. " Forty-one years ago 
to-day the first stock I ever owned was fixed up out 
there under the old codlin-tree; and now there are 
two hundred and twenty of them. 'Twas before 
you were born, likely as not; and bee science has 
seen many changes since then. In those days there 
were nothing but the old straw skeps, and most 
bee-keepers knew as little about the inner life of 
their bees as we do of the bottom of the South 
Pacific. Now things are very different; but the 
improvement is mostly in the bee-keepers them- 
selves. The bees are exactly as they always have 
been, and work on the same principles as they did 
in the time of Solomon. They go their appointed 
way inexorably, and all the bee-master can do is to 
run on ahead and smooth the path a little for them. 
Indeed, after forty odd years of bee-keeping, I 
doubt if the bees even realise that they are ' kept ' 
at all. The bee-master's work has little more to 
do with their progress than the organ-blower's 
with the tune." 

" Can you," I asked him, as we parted, " after all 
these years of experience, lay down for beginners 
in beemanship one royal maxim of success above 
any other? " 


He thought it over a little, the gun on his 
shoulder again. 

" Well, they might take warning from this same 
King Solomon," he said, " and beware the foreign 
feminine element. Let British bee-keepers cease to 
import queen bees from Italy and elsewhere, and 
stick to the good old English Black. All my bees 
are of this strain, and mostly from one pure 
original Sussex stock. The English black bee is a 
more generous honey-maker in indifferent seasons; 
she does not swarm so determinedly, under proper 
trer l ment, as the Ligurians or Carniolans; and, 
above all, though she is not so handsome as some 
of her Continental rivals, she comes of a hardy 
northern race, and stands the ups and downs of the 
British winter better than any of the fantastic 
yellow-girdled crew from overseas." 



HP HE midday sun shone warm from a cloudless 
sky. Up in the highest elm-tops the south- 
west wind kept the chattering starlings gently 
swinging, but below in the bee-garden scarce a 
breath moved under the rich soft light. 

As I lifted the latch of the garden-gate, the sharp 
click brought a stooping figure erect in the midst of 
the hives; and the bee-master came down the red- 
tiled winding path to meet me. He carried a box 
full of some yellowish powdery substance in one 
hand, and a big pitcher of water in the other; and 
as usual, his shirt-sleeves were tucked up to 
the shouldef, baring his weather-browned arms to 
the morning sun. 

" When do we begin the year's bee-work? " he 
said, repeating my question amusedly. " Why, we 
began on New Year's morning. And last year's 
work was finished on Old Year's night. If you go 
with the times, every day in the year has its work 
on a modern bee-farm, either indoors or out." 

" But it is on these first warm days of spring," 

he continued, as I followed him into the thick of 

the hives, " that outdoor work for the bee-man 

starts in earnest. The bees began long ago. 

/ 24 



January was not out before the first few eggs were 
laid right in the centre of the brood-combs. And 
from now on, if only we manage properly, each bee- 
colony will go on increasing until, in the height of 
the season, every queen will be laying from two 
thousand to three thousand eggs a day." 

He stopped and set down his box and his pitcher. 

" If we manage properly. But there's the rub. 
Success in bee-keeping is all a question of numbers. 
The more worker-bees there are when the honey- 
flow begins, the greater will be the honey-harvest. 
The whole art of the bee-keeper consists in main- 
taining a steady increase in population from the 
first moment the queens begin to lay in January, 
until the end of May brings on the rush of the white 
clover, and every bee goes mad with work from 
morning to night. Of course, in countries where 
the climate is reasonable, and the year may be 
counted on to warm up steadily month by month, 
all this is fairly easy; but with topsy-turvy weather, 
such as we get in England, it is a vastly different 
matter. Just listen to the bees now ! And this 
is only February ! " 

A deep vibrating murmur was upon the air. It 
came from all sides of us; it rose from under foot, 
where the crocuses were blooming; it seemed to 
fill the blue sky above with an ocean of sweet 
sound. The sunlight was alive with scintillating 
points of light, like cast handfuls of diamonds, as 
the bees darted hither and thither, or hovered in 
little joyous companies round every hive. They 
swept to and fro between us; gambolled about our 
heads; came with a sudden shrill menacing note and 
scrutinised our mouths, our ears, our eyes, or 


settled on our hands and faces, comfortably, and 
with no apparent haste to be gone. The bee-master 
noted my growing uneasiness, not to say trepidation. 

" Don't be afraid," he said. "It is only their 
companionableness. They won't sting — at least, 
not if you give them their way. But now come and 
see what we are doing to help on the queens in 
their work." 

At different stations in the garden I had noticed 
some shallow wooden trays standing among the 
hives. The old bee-man led the way to one of these. 
Here the humming was louder and busier than 
ever. The tray was full of fine wood-shavings, 
dusted over with the yellow powder from the bee- 
master's box; and scores of bees were at work in 
it, smothering themselves from head to foot, and 
flying off like golden millers to the hives. 

" This is pea-flour," explained the master, 
" and it takes the place of pollen as food for the 
young bees, until the spring flowers open and the 
natural supply is available. This forms the first 
step in the bee-keeper's work of patching up the 
defective English climate. From the beginning 
our policy is to deceive the queens into the belief 
that all is prosperity and progress outside. We 
keep all the hives well covered up, and contract the 
entrances, so that a high temperature is maintained 
within, and the queens imagine summer is already 
advancing. Then they see the pea-flour coming in 
plentifully, and conclude that the fields and hillsides 
are covered with flowers; for they never come out 
of the hives except at swarming-time, and must 
judge of the year by what they see around them. 
Then in a week or two we shall put the spring- 


feeders on, and give each hive as much syrup as the 
bees can take down; and this, again, leads the 
queens into the belief that the year's food-supply 
has begun in earnest. The result is that the winter 
lethargy in the hive is soon completely overthrown, 
the queens begin to lay unrestrictedly, and the whole 
colony is forging on towards summer strength long 
before there is any natural reason for it." 

We were stooping down, watching the bees at 
the nearest hive. A little cloud of them was 
hovering in the sunshine, heads towards the 
entrance, keeping up a shrill jovial contented note 
as they flew. Others were roving round with a 
vagrant, workless air, singing a low desultory 
song as they trifled about among the crocuses, 
passing from gleaming white to rich purple, then 
to gold, and back again to white, just as the mood 
took them. In the hive itself there was evidently a 
kind of spring-cleaning well in progress. Hundreds 
of the bees were bringing out minute sand-coloured 
particles, which accumulated on the alighting- 
board visibly as we watched. Now and again a 
worker came backing out, dragging a dead bee 
laboriously after her. Instantly two or three others 
rushed to help in the task, and between them 
they tumbled the carcass over the edge of the foot- 
board down among the grass below. Sometimes 
the burden was of a pure white colour, like the 
ghost of a bee, perfect in shape, with beady black eyes, 
and its colourless wings folded round it like a cere- 
cloth'. Then it seemed to be less weighty, and its 
carrier usually shouldered the gruesome thing, and 
flew away with it high up into the sunshine, and 
swiftly out of view. 


" Those are the undertakers," said the bee- 
master, ruminatively filling a pipe. " Their work 
is to carry the dead out of the hive. That last was one 
of the New Year's brood, and they often die in the 
cell like that, especially at the beginning of the 
season. All that fine drift is the cell-cappings 
thrown down during the winter from time to time 
as the stores were broached, and every warm day 
sees them cleaning up the hive in this way. And 
now watch these others — these that are coming and 
going straight in and out of the hive." 

I followed the pointing pipe-stem. The alighting- 
stage was covered with a throng of bees, each busily 
intent on some particular task. But every now and 
then a bee emerged from the hive with a rush, 
elbowed her way excitedly through the crowd, and 
darted straight off into the sunshine without an 
instant's pause. In the same way others were re- 
turning, and as swiftly disappearing into the hive. 

" Those are the water-carriers," explained the 
master. " Water is a constant need in bee-life 
almost the whole year round. It is used to soften 
the mixture of honey and pollen with which the 
young grubs and newly-halched bees are fed; and 
the old bees require a lot of it to dilute their winter 
stores. The river is the traditional watering-place 
for my bees here, and in the summer it serves very 
well; but in the winter hundreds are lost either 
through cold or drowning. And so at this time we 
give them a water-supply close at home." 

He took up his pitcher, and led the way to the 
other end of the garden. Here, on a bench, he 
showed me a long row of glass jars full of water, 
standing mouth downward, each on its separate 


plate of blue china. The water was oozing out 
round the edges of the jars, and scores of the 
bees were drinking at it side by side, like cattle at 
a trough. 

" We give it them lukewarm," said the old bee- 
man, " and always mix salt with it. If we had 
sea-water here, nothing would be better; seaside 
bees often go down to the shore to drink, as you 
may prove for yourself on any fine day in summer. 
Why are all the plates blue ? Bees are as fanciful 
in their ways as our own women-folk, and in 
nothing more than on the question of colour. Just 
this particular shade of light blue seems to attract 
them more than any other. Next to that, pure 
white is a favourite with them; but they have a 
pronounced dislike to anything brilliantly red, as 
all the old writers about bees noticed hundreds of 
years ago. If I were to put some of the drinking- 
jars on bright red saucers now, you would not see 
half as many bees on them as on the pale blue." 

We moved on to the extracting-house, whence 
the master now fetched his smoker, and a curious 
knife, with a broad and very keen-looking blade. 
He packed the tin nozzle of the smoker with 
rolled brown paper, lighted it, and, by means of 
the little bellows underneath, soon blew it up into 
full strength. Then he went to one of the 
quietest hives, where only a few bees were wander- 
ing aimlessly about, and sent a dense stream of 
smoke into the entrance. A moment later he had 
taken the roof and coverings off, and was lifting 
out the central comb-frames one by one, with the 
bees clinging in thousands all about them. 

" Now," he said, " we have come to what is 


really the most important operation of all in the 
bee-keeper's work of stimulating his stocks for 
the coming" season. Here in the centre of each 
comb you see the young brood; but all the cells 
above and around it are full of honey, still sealed 
over and untouched by the bees. The stock is 
behind time. The queen must be roused at once 
to her responsibilities, and here is one very simple 
and effective way of doing it." 

He took the knife, deftly shaved off the cap- 
pings from the honey-cells of each comb, and as 
quickly returned the frames, dripping with honey, 
to the brood-nest. In a few seconds the hive was 
comfortably packed down again, and he was 
looking round for the next languid stock. 

" All these slow, backward colonies," said the 
bee-master, as he puffed away with his smoker, 
" will have to be treated after the same fashion. 
The work must be smartly done, or you will chill 
the brood; but, in uncapping the stores like this, 
right in the centre of the brood-nest, the effect 
on the stock is magical. The whole hive reeks 
with the smell of honey, and such evidence of 
prosperity is irresistible. To-morrow, if you come 
this way, you will see all these timorous bee-folk 
as busy as any in the garden." 



TT was sunny spring in the bee-garden. The 
thick elder-hedge to the north was full of 
young green leaf; everywhere the trim footways 
between the hives were marked by yellow bands 
of crocus-bloom, and daffodils just showing a 
golden promise of what they would be in a few 
warm days to come. From a distance I had 
caught the fresh spring song of the hives, and 
had seen the bee-master and his men at work in 
different quarters of the mimic city. But now, 
drawing nearer, I observed they were intent on 
what seemed to me a perfectly astounding enter- 
prise. Each man held a spoon in one hand and 
a bowl of what I now knew to be pea-flour in the 
other, and I saw that they were busily engaged in 
filling the crocus-blossoms up to the brim with this 
inestimable condiment. My friend the bee-master 
looked up on my approach, and, as was his wont, 
forestalled the inevitable questioning. 

" This is another way of giving it," he 
explained, " and the best of all in the earliest part 
of the season. Instinct leads the bees to the flowers 
for pollen-food when they will not look for it else- 

3 1 


where; and as the natural supply is very meagre, 
we just help them in this way." 

As he spoke I became rather unpleasantly aware 
of a change of manners on the part of his winged 
people. First one and then another came harping 
round, and, settling comfortably on my face, 
showed no inclination to move again. In my 
ignorance I was for brushing them off, but the bee- 
master came hurriedly to my rescue. He dislodged 
them with a few gentle puffs from his tobacco-pipe. 

" That is always their way in the spring-time," 
he explained. " The warmth of the skin attracts 
them, and the best thing to do is to take no notice. 
If you had knocked them off you would probably 
have been stung." 

"Is it true that a bee can only sting once? " 
I asked him, as he bent again over the crocus 

He laughed. 

" What would be the good of a sword to a 
soldier," he said, " if only one blow could be 
struck with it? It is certainly true that the bee 
does not usually sting a second time, but that is 
only because you are too hasty with her. You 
brush her off before she has had time to complete 
her business, and the barbed sting, holding in the 
wound, is torn away, and the bee dies. But now 
watch how the thing works naturally." 

A bee had settled on his hand as he was speaking. 
He closed his fingers gently over it, and forced 
it to sting. 

" Now," he continued, quite unconcernedly, 
" look what really happens. The bee makes two 
or three lunges before she gets the sting fairly 


home. Then the poison is injected. Now watch 
what she does afterwards. See! she has finished 
her work, and is turning round and round! The 
barbs are arranged spirally on the sting, and she 
is twisting it out corkscrew-fashion. Now she is 
free again ! there she goes, you see, weapon and 
all; and ready to sting again if necessary." 

The crocus-filling operation was over now, and 
the bee-master took up his barrow and led the way 
to a row of hives in the sunniest part of the 
garden. He pulled up before the first of the hives, 
and lighted his smoking apparatus. 

" These," he said, as he fell to work, " have not 
been opened since October, and it is high time we 
saw how things are going with them." 

He drove a few strong puffs of smoke into the 
entrance of the hive and removed the lid. Three 
or four thicknesses of warm woollen quilting lay 
beneath. Under these a square of linen covered 
the tops of the frames, to which it had been firmly 
propolised by the bees. My friend began to peel 
this carefully off, beginning at one corner and 
using the smoker freely as the linen ripped 

" This was a full-weight hive in the autumn," he 
said, " so there was no need for candy- feeding. 
But they must be pretty near the end of their stores 
now. You see how they are all together on the 
three or four frames in the centre of the hive? 
The other combs are quite empty and deserted. 
And look how near they are clustering to the top 
of the bars! Bees always feed upwards, and that 
means we must begin spring-feeding right away." 
He turned to the barrow, on which was a large 


box, lined with warm material, and containing bar 
frames full of sealed honeycomb. 

" These are extra combs from last summer. I 
keep them in a warm cupboard over the stove at 
about the same temperature as the hive we are 
going to put them into. But first they must be 
uncapped. Have you ever seen the Bingham 
used ? " 

From the inexhaustible barrow he produced the 
long knife with the broad, flat blade; and, poising 
the frame of honeycomb vertically on his knee, he 
removed the sheet of cell-caps with one dexterous 
cut, laying the honey bare from end to end. This 
frame was then lowered into the hive with the 
uncapped side close against the clustering bees. 
Another comb, similarly treated, was placed on the 
opposite flank of the cluster. Outside each of 
these a second full comb was as swiftly brought 
into position. Then the sliding inner walls of the 
brood-nest were pushed up close to the frame, and 
the quilts and roof restored. The whole seemed 
the work of a few moments at the outside. 

" All this early spring work," said the bee- 
master, as we moved to the next hive, " is based 
upon the recognition of one thing. In the south 
here the real great honey-flow comes all at once : 
very often the main honey-harvest for the year has 
to be won or lost during three short weeks of 
summer. The bees know this, and from the first 
days of spring they have only the one idea — to create 
an immense population, so that when the honey-flow 
begins there may be no lack of harvesters. But 
against this main idea there is another one — their 
ingrained and invincible caution. Not an egg will 


be laid nor a grub hatched unless there is reason- 
able chance of subsistence for it. The populace 
of the hive must be increased only in proportion 
to the amount of stores coming in. With a good 
spring, and the early honey plentiful, the queen will 
increase her production of eggs with every day, and 
the population of the hive will advance accordingly. 
But if, on the very brink of the great honey-flow, 
there comes, as is so often the case, a spell of cold 
windy weather, laying is stopped at once; and, if 
the cold continues, all hatching grubs are destroyed 
and the garrison put on half-rations. And so the 
work of months is undone." 

He stooped to bring his friendly pipe to my 
succour again, for a bee was trying to get down 
my collar in the most unnerving way, and another 
had apparently mistaken my mouth for the front- 
door of his hive. The intruders happily driven off, 
the master went back to his work and his talk 

" But it is just here that the art of the bee- 
keeper comes in. He must prevent this interruption 
to progress by maintaining the confidence of the 
bees in the season. He must create an artificial 
plenty until the real prosperity begins. Yet, after 
all, he must never lose sight of the main principle, 
of carrying out the ideas of the bees, not his own. 
In good beemanship there is only one road to 
success : you must study to find out what^ the bees 
intend to do, and then help them to do it. They 
call us bee-masters, but bee-servants would be much 
the better name. The bees have their definite plan 
of life, perfected through countless ages, and 
nothing you can do will ever turn them from it. 


You can delay their work, or you can even thwart 
it altogether, but no one has ever succeeded in 
changing a single principle in bee-life. And so the 
best bee-master is always the one who most exactly 
obeys the orders from the hive." 



'T'HE bee-mistress looked at my card, then 
put its owner under a like careful scrutiny. 
In the shady garden where we stood, the sunlight 
fell in quivering golden splashes round our feet. 
High overhead, in the purple elm-blossom, the bees 
and the glad March wind made rival music. Higher 
still a ripple of lark-song hung in the blue, and a 
score of rooks were sailing by, filling the morning 
with their rich, deep clamour of unrest. 

The bee-mistress drew off her sting-proof gloves 
in thoughtful deliberation. 

" If I show you the bee-farm," said she, eyeing 
me somewhat doubtfully, " and let you see what 
women have done and are doing in an ideal feminine 
industry, will you promise to write of us with 
seriousness? I mean, will you undertake to deal 
with the matter for what it is — a plain, business 
enterprise by business people — and not treat it 
flippantly, just because no masculine creature has 
had a hand in it? " 

" This is an attempt," she went on — the needful 
assurances having been given—" an attempt, and, 
we believe, a real solution to a very real difficulty. 
There are thousands of educated women in the 



towns who have to earn their own bread; and they 
do it usually by trying to compete with men in walks 
of life for which they are wholly unsuited. Now, 
why do they not come out into the pure air and 
quiet of the countryside, and take up any one of 
several pursuits open there to a refined, well-bred 
woman? Everywhere the labourers are forsaking 
the land and crowding into the cities. That is a 
farmers' problem, with which, of course, women 
have nothing to do. The rough, heavy work in 
the cornfields must always be done either by men 
or machinery. But there are certain employments, 
even in the country, that women can invariably 
undertake better than men, and bee-keeping is one 
of them. The work is light. It needs just that 
delicacy and deftness of touch that only a woman 
can bring to it. It is profitable. Above all, there 
is nothing about it, from first to last, of an 
objectionable character, demanding masculine inter- 
ference. In poultry-farming, good as it is for 
women, there must always be a stony-hearted man 
about the place to do unnameable necessary things 
in a fluffy back-shed. But bee-keeping is clean, 
clever, humanising, open-air work — essentially 
women's work all through." 

She had led the way through the scented old- 
fashioned garden, towards a gate in the farther wall, 
talking as she went. Now she paused, with her 
hand on the latch. 

" This," she said, " we call the Transition Gate. 
It divides our work from our play. On this side 
of it we have the tennis-court and the croquet, and 
other games that women love, young or old. But 
it is all serious business on the other side. And 


now you shall see our latter-day Eden, with its one 
unimportant omission." 

As the door swung back to her touch, the 
murmur that was upon the air grew suddenly in 
force and volume. Looking through, I saw an old 
orchard, spacious, sun-riddled, carpeted with green; 
and, stretching away under the ancient apple-boughs, 
long, neat rows of hives, a hundred or more, all 
alive with bees, winnowing the March sunshine with 
their myriad wings. 

Here and there in the shade-dappled pleasance 
figures were moving about, busily at work among 
the hives, figures of women clad in trim holland 
blouses, and wearing bee-veils, through which only 
a dim guess at the face beneath could be hazarded. 
Laughter and talk went to and fro in the sun- 
steeped quiet of the place; and one of the fair bee- 
gardeners near at hand — young and pretty, I could 
have sworn, although her blue gauze veil disclosed 
provokingly little — was singing to herself, as she 
stooped over an open hive, and lifted the crowded 
brood-frames one by one up into the light of 

" The great work of the year is just beginning 
with us," explained the bee-mistress. " In these 
first warm days of spring every hive must be opened 
and its condition ascertained. Those that are short 
of stores must be fed; backward colonies must be 
quickened to a sense of their responsibilities. 
Clean hives must be substituted for the old, winter- 
soiled dwellings. Queens that are past their prime 
will have to be dethroned, and their places filled by 
younger and more vigorous successors. But it is 
all typically women's work. You have an old 


acquaintance with the lordly bee-master and his 
ways; now come and see how a woman manages." 

We passed over to the singing lady in the veil, 
and — from a safe distance — watched her at her 
work. Each frame, as it was raised out of the 
seething abyss of the hive, was turned upside 
down and carefully examined. A little vortex of 
bees swung round her head, shrilling vindictively. 
Those on the uplifted comb-frames hustled to and 
fro like frightened sheep, or crammed themselves 
head foremost into the empty cells, out of reach of 
the disturbing light. 

" That is a queenless stock," said the bee-mistress. 
"It is going to be united with another colony, 
where there is a young, high-mettled ruler in want 
of subjects." 

We watched the bee-gardener as she went to one 
of the neighbouring hives, subdued and opened it, 
drew out all the brood-combs, and brought them 
over in a carrying-rack, with the bees clustering in 
thousands all about them. Then a scent-diffuser was 
brought into play, and the fragrance of lavender- 
water came over to us, as the combs of both hives 
were quickly sprayed with the perfume, then 
lowered into the hive, a frame from each stock 
alternately. It was the old time-honoured plan for 
uniting bee-colonies, by impregnating them with 
the same odour, and so inducing the bees to live 
together peaceably, where otherwise a deadly war 
might ensue. But the whole operation was carried 
through with a neat celerity, and light, dexterous 
handling, I had never seen equalled by any man. 

" That girl," said the bee-mistress, as we moved 
away, " came to me out of a London office a year 


ago, anaemic, pale as the paper she typed on all day 
for a living. Now she is well and strong, and 
almost as brown as the bees she works among so 
willingly. All my girls here have come to me from 
time to time in the same way out of the towns, for- 
saking indoor employment that was surely stunting 
all growth of mind and body. And there are 
thousands who would do the same to-morrow, if 
only the chance could be given them." 

We stopped in the centre of the old orchard. 
Overhead the swelling fruit-buds glistened against 
the blue sky. Merry thrush-music rang out far 
and near. Sun and shadow, the song of the bees, 
laughing voices, a snatch of an old Sussex chantie, 
the perfume of violet-beds and nodding gillyflowers, 
all came over to us through the lichened tree-stems, 
in a flood of delicious colour and scent and sound. 
The bee-mistress turned to me, triumphantly. 

" Would any sane woman," she asked, " stop 
in the din and dirt of a smoky city, if she could come 
and work in a place like this ? Bee-keeping for 
women! do you not see what a chance it opens up 
to poor toiling folk, pining for fresh air and sun- 
shine, especially to the office-girl class, girls often 
of birth and refinement — just that kind of poor 
gentlewomen whose breeding and social station 
render them most difficult of all to help ? And here 
is work for them, clean, intellectual, profitable; 
work that will keep them all day long in the open 
air; a healthy, happy country life, humanly within 
the reach of all." 

" What is wanted," continued the bee-mistress, 
as we went slowly down the broad main-way of the 
honey-farm, " is for some great lady, rich in busi- 


ness ideas as well as in pocket, to take up the whole 
scheme, and to start a network of small bee-gardens 
for women over the whole land. Very large bee- 
farms are a mistake, I think, except in the most 
favourable districts. Bees work only within a 
radius of two or three miles at most, so that the 
number of hives that can be kept profitably in a 
given area has its definite limits. But there is 
still plenty of room everywhere for bee-farms of 
moderate size, conducted on the right principles; 
and there is no reason at all why they should not 
work together on the co-operative plan, sending all 
their produce to some convenient centre in each 
district, to be prepared and marketed for the 
common good." 

" But the whole outcome," she went on, " of a 
scheme like this depends on the business qualities 
imported into it. Here, in the heart of the Sussex 
Weald, we labour together in the midst of almost 
ideal surroundings, but we never lose sight of the 
plain, commercial aspect of the thing. We study all 
the latest writings on our subject, experiment with 
all novelties, and keep ourselves well abreast of the 
times in every way. Our system is to make each 
hive show a clear, definite profit. The annual in- 
come is not, and can never be, a very large one, but 
we fare quite simply, and have sufficient for our 
needs. In any case, however, we have proved here 
that a few women, renting a small house and garden 
out in the country, can live together comfortably 
on the proceeds from their bees; and there is no 
reason in the world why the idea should not be 
carried out by others with equal success." 
We had made the round of the whole busy, 


murmuring enclosure, and had come again to the 
little door in the wall. Passing through and out 
once more into the world of merely masculine 
endeavour, the bee-mistress gave me a final word. 
" You may think," said she, " that what I 
advocate, though successful in our own single 
instance, might prove impracticable on a widely ex- 
tended scale. Well, do you know that last year 
close upon three hundred and fifty tons of honey 
were imported into Great Britain from foreign 
sources,* just because our home apiculturists were 
unable to cope with the national demand? And 
this being so, is it too much to think that, if women 
would only band themselves together and take up 
bee-keeping systematically, as we have done, all or 
most of that honey could be produced — of infinitely 
better quality — here, on our own British soil? " 
• Before the War. 



HPHE old bee-garden lay on the verge of the wood 
Seen from a distance it looked like a great 
white china bowl brimming over with roses; but a 
nearer view changed the porcelain to a snowy barrier 
of hawthorn, and the roses became blossoming apple- 
boughs, stretching up into the May sunshine, where 
all the bees in the world seemed to have for- 
gathered, filling the air with their rich wild chant. 

Coming into the old garden from the glare of the 
dusty road, the hives themselves were the last 
thing to rivet attention. As you went up the shady 
moss-grown path, perhaps the first impression you 
became gratefully conscious of was the slow dim 
quiet of the place — a quiet that had in it all the 
essentials of silence, and yet was really made up 
of a myriad blended sounds. Then the sheer 
cp.rmine of the tulips, in the sunny vista beyond the 
orchard, came upon you like a trumpet-note through 
the shadowy aisles of the trees; and after this, in 
turn, the flaming amber of the marigolds, broad 
zones of forget-me-nots like strips of the blue sky 
fallen, snow-drifts of arabis and starwort, purple 



pansy-spangles veering to every breeze. And last 
of all you became gradually aware that every bright 
nook or shade-dappled corner round you had its 
nestling bee-skep, half hidden in the general riot 
of blossom, yet marked by the steadier, deeper 
song of the homing bees. 

To stand here, in the midst of the hives, of a fine 
May morning, side by side with the old bee-man, 
and watch with him for the earliest swarms of the 
year, was an experience that took one back far 
into another and a kindlier century. There were 
certain hives in the garden, grey with age and 
smothered in moss and lichen, that were the 
traditional mother-colonies of all the rest. The old 
bee-keeper treasured them as relics of his sturdy 
manhood, just as he did the percussion fowling- 
piece over his mantel; and pointed to one in 
particular as being close on thirty years old. 
Nowadays remorseless science has proved that the 
individual life of the honey-bee extends to four or 
five months at most; but the old bee-keeper firmly 
believed that some at least of the original members 
of this colony still flourished in green old age deep 
in the sombre corridors of the ancient skep. Bend- 
ing down, he would point out to you, among the 
crowd on the alighting-board, certain bees with 
polished thorax and ragged wings worn almost to 
a stump. While the young worker-bees were 
charging in and out of the hive at breakneck speed, 
these superannuated amazons doddered about in 
the sunlight, with an obvious and pathetic assump- 
tion of importance. They were really the last 
survivors of the bygone winter's brood. Their 
task of hatching the new spring generation was 


over; and now, the power of flight denied to them, 
they busied themselves in the work of sentinels at 
the gate, or in grooming the young bees as they 
came out for their first adventure into the far 
world of blossoming clover under the hill. 

For modern apiculture, with its interchangeable 
comb-frames and section-supers, and American 
notions generally, the old bee-keeper harboured a 
fine contempt. In its place he had an exhaustless 
store of original bee-knowledge, gathered through- 
out his sixty odd years of placid life among the 
bees. His were all old-fashioned hives of straw, 
hackled and potsherded just as they must have been 
any time since Saxon Alfred burned the cakes. 
Each bee-colony had its separate three-legged 
stool, and each leg stood in an earthen pan of 
water, impassable moat for ants and " wood-li's," 
and such small honey-thieves. Why the hives were 
thus dotted about in such admired but inconvenient 
disorder was a puzzle at first, until you learned 
more of ancient bee-traditions. Wherever a swarm 
settled — up in the pink-rosetted apple-boughs, 
under the eaves of the old thatched cottage, or 
deep in the tangle of the hawthorn hedge — there, 
on the nearest open ground beneath, was its 
inalienable, predetermined home. When, as some- 
times happened, the swarm went straight away out 
of sight over the meadows, or sailed off like a 
pirouetting grey cloud over the roof of the wood, 
the old bee-keeper never sought to reclaim it for 
the garden. 

" 'Tis gone to the shires fer change o' air," he 
would say, shielding his bleak blue eyes with his 
hand, as he gazed after it. " 'Twould be agen 


natur' to hike 'em back here along. An' naught 
but ill-luck an' worry wi'out end." 

He never observed the skies for tokens of to- 
morrow's weather, as did his neighbours of the 
countryside. The bees were his weather-glass 
and thermometer in one. If they hived very early 
after noon, though the sun went down in clear 
gold and the summer night loomed like molten 
amethyst under the starshine, he would prophesy 
rain before morning. And sure enough you were 
wakened at dawn by a furious patter on the 
window, and the booming of the south-west wind 
in the pine-clad crest of the hill. But if the bees 
loitered afield far into the gusty crimson gloaming, 
and the loud darkness that followed seemed only to 
bring added intensity to the busy labour-note 
within the hives, no matter how the wind keened 
or the griddle of black storm-cloud threatened, he 
would go on with his evening task of watering his 
garden, sure of a morrow of cloudless heat to 

He knew all the sources of honey for miles 
around; and, by taste and smell, could decide at 
once the particular crop from which each sample 
had been gathered. He would discriminate between 
that from white clover or sainfoin; the produce of 
the yellow charlock wastes; or the orchard-honey, 
wherein it seemed the fragrance of cherry-bloom 
was always to be differentiated from that of apple 
or damson or pear. He would tell you when good 
honey had been spoilt by the grosser flavour of 
sunflower or horse-chestnut; or when the detestable 
honey-dew had entered into its composition; or, the 
super-caps having been removed too late in the 


season, the bees had got at the early ivy-blossom, 
and so degraded all the batch. 

Watching bees at work of a fair morning in 
May, nothing excites the wonder of the casual 
looker-on more than the mysterious burdens they 
are for ever bringing home upon their thighs; 
semi-globular packs, always gaily coloured, and 
often so heavy and cumbersome that the bee can 
hardly drag its weary way into the hive. This is 
pollen, to be stored in the cells, and afterwards 
kneaded up with honey as food for the young bees. 
The old man could say at once by the colour from 
which flower each load was obtained. The deep 
brown-gold panniers came from the gorse-bloom; 
the pure snow-white from the hawthorns; the vivid 
yellow, always so big and seemingly so weighty, 
had been filled in the buttercup meads. Now and 
again, in early spring, a bee would come blunder- 
ing home with a load of pallid sea-green hue. 
This came from the gooseberry bushes. And later, 
in summer, when the poppies began to throw their 
scarlet shuttles in the corn, many of these airy 
cargoes would be of a rich velvety black. But 
there was one kind which the old bee-man had 
never yet succeeded in tracing to its flowery origin. 
He saw it only rarely, perhaps not a dozen times 
in the season — a wonderful deep rose-crimson, 
singling out its bearer, on her passage through the 
throng, as with twin danger-lamps, doubly bright 
in the morning glow. 

Keeping watch over the comings and goings of 
his bees was always his favourite pastime, year in 
and year out; but it was in the later weeks of May 
that his interest in them culminated. He had 


always had swarms in May as far back as his 
memory could serve him; and the oldest hive in the 
garden was generally the first to swarm. As a 
rule the bees gave sufficient warning of their 
intended migration some hours before their actual 
issue. The strenuous pell-mell business of the hive 
would come to a sudden portentous halt. While a 
few of the bees still darted straight off into the 
sunshine on their wonted errands, or returned with 
the usual motley loads upon their thighs, the rest 
of the colony seemed to have abandoned work 
altogether. From early morning they hung in a 
great brown cluster all over the face of the hive, 
and down almost to the earth beneath; a churning 
mass of insect-life that grew bigger and bigger with 
every moment, glistening like wet seaweed in the 
morning sun. In the cluster itself there was an 
uncanny silence. But out of the depths of the hive 
came a low vibrating murmur, wholly distinct 
from its usual note; and every now and again a 
faint shrill piping sound could be heard, as the old 
queen worked herself up to swarming frenzy, 
vainly seeking the while to reach the royal nursery 
where the rival who was to oust her from her old 
dominion was even then steadily gnawing through 
her constraining prison walls. 

At these momentous times a quaint ceremonial 
was rigidly adhered to by the old bee-master. 
First he brought out a pitcher of home-brewed ale, 
from which all who were to assist in the swarm- 
taking were required to drink, as at a solemn rite. 
The dressing of the skep was his next care. A 
little of the beer was sprinkled over its interior, and 
then it was carefully scoured out with a handful of 


balm and lavender and mint. After this the skep 
was covered up and set aside in the shade; and the 
old bee-keeper, carrying an ancient battered copper 
bowl in one gnarled hand, and a great door-key in 
the other, would lead the way towards the hive, 
his drab smock-frock mowing the scarlet tulip-heads 
down as he went. 

Sometimes the swarm went off without any 
preliminary warning, just as if the skep had burst 
like a bombshell, volleying its living contents into 
the sky. But oftener it went through the several 
stages of a regular process. After much waiting 
and many false alarms, a peculiar stir would come 
in the throng of bees cumbering the entrance to the 
hive. Thousands rose on the wing, until the sun- 
shine overhead was charged with them as with 
countless fluttering atoms of silver-foil; and a wild 
joyous song spread far and wide, overpowering all 
other sounds in the garden. Within the hive the 
rich bass note had ceased; and a hissing noise, like 
a great caldron boiling over, took its place, as the 
bees inside came pouring out to join the carolling 
multitude above. Last of all came the queen. 
Watching for her through the glittering gauzy 
atmosphere of flashing wings, she was always 
strangely conspicuous, with her long pointed body 
of brilliant chestnut-red. She came hustling forth; 
stopped for an instant to comb her antennae on the 
edge of the foot-board; then soared straight up into 
the blue, the whole swarm crowding deliriously in 
her train. 

Immediately the old bee-man commenced a weird 
tom-tomming on his metal bowl. " Ringing the 
hses " was an exact scienqe with him. They were 


supposed to fly higher or lower according to the 
measure of the music; and now the great door-key 
beat out a slow, stately chime like a cathedral bell. 
Whether this ringing of the old-time skeppists had 
any real influence on the movements of a swarm 
has never been absolutely determined; but there 
was no doubt in this case of the bee-keeper's perfect 
faith in the process, or that the bees would 
commence their descent and settle, usually in one 
of the apple trees, very soon after the din began. 

The rapid growth of the swarm-cluster was 
always one of the most bewildering things to watch. 
From a little dark knot no bigger than the clenched 
hand, it swelled in a moment to the size of a half- 
gallon measure, growing in girth and length with 
inconceivable swiftness, until the branch began to 
droop under its weight. A minute more, and the 
last of the flying bees had joined the cluster; the 
stout apple-branch was bent almost double; and 
the completed swarm hung within a few inches of 
the ground, a long cigar-shaped mass gently swaying 
to and fro in the flickering light and shade. 

The joyous trek-song of the bees, and the clang- 
ing melody of key and basin, died down together. 
The old murmuring, songful quiet closed over the 
garden again, as water over a cast stone. To hive 
a swarm thus easily within reach was a simple 
matter. Soon the old bee-man had got all snugly 
inside the skep, and the hive in its self-appointed 
station. And already the bees were settling down 
to work; hovering merrily about it, or packed in 
the fragrant darkness busy at comb-building, or 
lancing off to the clover-fields, eager to begin the 
task of provisioning the new home, 



TTSTE were in the great high-road of Warrilow 
* bee-farm, and had stopped midway down in 
the heart of the waxen city. On every hand the 
hives stretched away in long trim rows, and the 
hot June sunshine was alive with darting bees and 
fragrant with the smell of new-made honey. 

" Swarming? " said the bee-master, in answer to 
a question I had put to him. " We never allow 
swarming here. My bees have to work for me, and 
not for themselves; so we have discarded that old- 
fashioned notion long ago." 

He brought his honey-barrow to a halt, and sat 
down ruminatively on the handle. 

" Swarming," he went on to explain, " is the 
great trouble in modern bee-keeping. It is a bad 
legacy left us by the old-time skeppists. With the 
ancient straw hives and the old benighted methods 
of working, it was all very well. When bee- 
burning was the custom, and all the heaviest hives 
were foredoomed to the sulphur-pit, the best bees 
were those that gave the earliest and the largest 
swarms. The more stocks there were in the 
garden the more honey there would be for market. 


Swarming was encouraged in every possible way, 
And so, at last, the steady, stay-at-home variety of 
boney-bee became exterminated, and only the 
inveterate swarmers were kept to carry on the 

I quoted the time-honoured maxim about a 
swarm in May being worth a load of hay. The 
bee-master laughed derisively. 

" To the modern bee-keeper," he said, " a 
swarm in May is little short of a disgrace. There 
is no clearer sign of bad beemanship nowadays than 
when a strong colony is allowed to weaken itself 
by swarming on the eve of the great honey-flow, 
just when strength and numbers are most needed. 
Of course, in the old days, the maxim held true 
enough. The straw skeps had room only for a 
certain number of bees, and when they became too 
crowded there was nothing for it but to let the 
colonies split up in the natural way. But the 
modern frame-hive, with its extending brood- 
chamber, does away with that necessity. Instead 
of the old beggarly ten or twelve thousand,, we can 
now raise a population of forty or fifty thousand 
bees in each hive, and so treble and quadruple the 

" But," I asked him, " do not the bees go on 
swarming all the same, if you let them? " 

" The old instincts die hard," he said. " Some 
day they will learn more scientific ways; but as 
yet they have not realised the change that modern 
bee-keeping has made in their condition. Of 
course, swarming has its clear, definite purpose, 
apart from that of relieving the congestion of the 
stock. When a hive swarms, the old queen goes 


off with the flying squadron, and a new one takes 
her place at home. In this way there is always a 
young and vigorous queen at the head of affairs, 
and the well-being of the parent stock is assured. 
But advanced bee-keepers, whose sole object is to 
get a large honey yield, have long recognised that 
this is a very expensive way of rejuvenating old 
colonies. The parent hive will give no surplus 
honey for that season; and the swarm, unless it is 
a large and very early one, will do little else than 
furnish its brood-nest for the coming winter. But if 
swarming be prevented, and the stock reqweened 
artificially every two years, we keep an immense 
population always ready for the great honey-flow, 
whenever it begins." 

He took up the heavy barrow, laden with its pile 
of super-racks, and started trundling it up the 
path, talking as he went. 

" If only the bees could be persuaded to leave 
the queen-raising to the bee-keeper, and would 
attend to nothing else but the great business of 
honey-getting! But they won't — at least, not yet. 
Perhaps in another hundred years or so the old 
wild habits may be bred out of them; but at present 
it is doubtful whether they are conscious of any 
' keeping ' at all. They go the old tried paths 
determinedly; and the most that we can accomplish 
is to undo that part of their work which is not to 
our liking, or to make a smoother road for them in 
the direction they themselves have chosen." 

" But you said just now," I objected, " that no 
swarming was allowed among your bees. How do 
you manage to prevent it? " 

" It is not so much a question of prevention as of 


cure. Each hive must be watched carefully from 
the beginning. From the time the queen com- 
mences to lay, in the first mild days of spring, we 
keep the size of the brood nest just a little ahead of 
her requirements. Every week or two I put in a 
new frame of empty combs, and when she has ten 
frames to work upon, and honey is getting plentiful, 
I begin to put on the store-racks above, just as I 
am doing now. This will generally keep them to 
business; but with all the care in the world the 
swarming fever will sometimes set in. And then I 
always treat it in this way." 

He had stopped before one of the hives, where 
the bees were hanging in a glistening brown cluster 
from the alighting-board; idling while their fellows 
in the bee-garden seemed all possessed with a 
perfect fury of work. I watched him as he lighted 
the smoker, a sort of bellows with a wide tin 
funnel packed with chips of dry rotten wood. He 
stooped over the hive, and sent three or four dense 
puffs of smoke into the entrance. 

" That is called subduing the bees," he explained, 
" but it really does nothing of the kind. It only 
alarms them, and a frightened bee always rushes 
and fills- herself with honey, to be ready for any 
emergency. She can imbibe enough to keep her 
for three or four days ; and once secure of immediate 
want, she waits with a sort of fatalistic calm for 
the development of the trouble threatening." 

He halted a moment or two for this process to 
complete itself, then began to open the hive. First 
the roof came off; then the woollen quilts and 
square of linen beneath were gradually peeled from 
the tops of the comb-frames, laying bare the interior 


of the hive. Out of its dim depths came up a 
steady rumbling note like a train in a tunnel, but 
only a few of the bees got on the wing and began 
tc circle round our heads viciously. The frames 
hung side by side, with a space of half an inch or so 
between. The bee-master lifted them out carefully 
one by one. 

" Now, see here," he said, as he held up the first 
frame in the sunlight, with the bees clinging in 
thousands to it, " this end comb ought to have 
nothing but honey in it, but you see its centre is 
covered with brood-cells. The queen has caught 
the bee-man napping, and has extended her nursery 
to the utmost limit of the hive. She is at the end 
of her tether, and has therefore decided to swarm. 
Directly the bees see this they begin to prepare for 
the coming loss of their queen by raising another, 
and to make sure of getting one they always breed 
three or four." 

He took out the next comb and pointed to a round 
construction, about the size and shape of an acorn, 
hanging from its lower edge. 

" That is a queen cell; and here, on the next 
comb, are two more. One is sealed over, you see, 
and may hatch out at any moment; and the others 
are nearly ready for closing. They are always care- 
fully guarded, or the old queen would destroy them. 
And now to put an end to the swarming fit." 

He took out all the combs but the four centre 
ones; and, with a goose wing, gently brushed the 
bees off them into the hive. The six combs were 
then taken to the extricating-house hard by. The 
sealed honey-cells on all of them were swiftly un- 
capped, and the honey thrown out by a turn or two 


in the centrifugal machine. Now we went back to 
the hive. Right in the centre the bee-master put 
a new, perfectly empty comb, and on each side of 
this came the four principal brood frames with the 
queen still on them. Outside of these again the 
combs from which we had extracted all the honey 
were brought into position. And then a rack of 
new sections was placed over all, and the hive 
quickly closed up. The entire process seemed the 
work of only a few minutes. 

" Now," said the bee-master triumphantly, as he 
took up his barrow again, " we have changed the 
whole aspect of affairs. The population of the 
hive is as big as ever; but instead of a house of 
plenty it is a house of dearth. The larder is empty, 
and the only cure for impending famine is hard 
work; and the bees will soon find that out and set 
to again. Moreover, the queen has now plenty of 
room for laying everywhere, and those exasper- 
ating prison-cradles, with her future rivals hatching 
in them, have been done away with. She has no 
further reason for flight, and the bees, having had 
all their preparations destroyed, have the best of 
reasons for keeping her. Above all, there is the 
new super-rack, greatly increasing the hive space, 
and they will be given a second and third rack, or 
even a fourth one, long before they feel the want 
of it. Every motive for swarming has been 
removed, and the result to the bee-master will 
probably be seventy or eighty pounds of surplus 
honey, instead of none at all, if the bees had been 
left to their old primaeval ways." 

" You must always remember, however," he 
added, as a final word, " that bees do nothing 


invariably. 'Tis an old and threadbare saying 
amongst bee-keepers, but there's nothing truer 
under the sun. Bees have exceptions to almost 
every rule. While all other creatures seem to keep 
blindly to one pre-ordained way in everything they 
do, you can never be certain at any time that bees 
will not reverse their ordinary course to meet circum- 
stances you may know nothing of. And that is all 
the more reason why the bee-master himself should 
allow no deviations in his own work about the 
hives : his ways must be as the ways of the Medes 
and Persians." 



TPHE sweet summer dusk was over the bee-farm. 
On every side, as I passed through, the star- 
light showed me the crowding roofs of the city of 
hives; and beyond these I could just make out the 
dim outline of the extracting-house, with a cheerful 
glow of lamplight streaming out from window and 
door. The rumble of machinery and the voices of 
the bee-master and his men grew louder as I 
approached. A great business seemed to be going 
forward within. In the centre of the building 
stood a strange-looking engine, like a brewer's vat 
on legs. It was eight or nine feet broad and some 
five feet high; and a big horizontal wheel lay 
within the great circle, completely filling its whole 
circumference. As I entered, the wheel was going 
round with a deep reverberating noise as fast as 
two strong men could work the gearing; and the 
bee-master stood close by, carefully timing the 

"Halt!" he shouted. The great wheel-of- 
fortune stopped. A long iron bar was pulled down 
and the wheel rose out of the vat. Now I could see 
that its whole outer periphery was covered with 



frames of honeycomb, each in its separate gauze- 
wire cage. The bee-master tugged a lever. The 
cages — there must have been twenty-five or thirty 
of them — turned over simultaneously like single 
leaves of a book, bringing the other side of each 
comb into place. The wheel dropped down once 
more, and swung round again on its giddy journey. 
From my place by the door I could hear the honey 
driving out against the sides of the vat like heavy 

" Halt!" cried the bee-master again. Once more 
the big wheel rose, glistening and dripping, into the 
yellow lamplight. And now a trolley was pushed up 
laden with more honeycomb ready for extraction. 
The wire-net cages were opened, the empty combs 
taken out, and full ones deftly put in their place. 
The wheel plunged down again into its mellifluous 
cavern, and began its deep song once more. The 
bee-master gave up his post to the foreman, and 
came towards me, wiping the honey from his 
hands. He was very proud of his big extractor, 
and quite willing to explain the whole process. 
"In the old days," he said, "the only way to 
get the honey from the comb was to press it out. 
You could not obtain your honey without destroying 
the comb, which at this season of the year is worth 
very much more than the honey itself; for if the 
combs can be emptied and restored perfect 
to the hive, the bees will fill them again imme- 
diately, without having to waste valuable time 
in the height of the honey-flow by stopping 
to make new combs. And when the bees 
are wax-making they are not only prevented from 
gathering honey, but have to consume their own 


stores. While they are making one pound of comb 
they will eat seventeen or eighteen pounds of honey. 
So the man who hit upon the idea of drawing the 
honey from the comb by centrifugal force did a 
splendid thing for modern bee-farming. English 
honey was nothing until the extractor came and 
changed bee-keeping from a mere hobby into an 
important industry. But come and see how the 
thing is done from the beginning." 

He led the way towards one end of the building. 
Here three or four men were at work at a long 
table surrounded by great stacks of honeycombs in 
their oblong wooden frames. The bee-master took 
up one of these. " This," he explained, " is the 
bar-frame just as it comes from the hive. Ten of 
them side by side exactly fill a box that goes over 
the hive proper. The queen stays below in the 
brood-nest, but the worker bees come to the top to 
store the honey. Then, every two or three days, 
when the honey-flow is at its fullest, we open the 
super, take out the sealed combs, and put in combs 
that have been emptied by the extractor. In a few 
days these also are filled and capped by the bees, 
and are replaced by more empty combs in the same 
way; and so it goes on to the end of the honey- 

We stood for a minute or two watching the work at 
the table. It went on at an extraordinary pace. Each 
workman seized one of the frames and poised it verti- 
cally over a shallow metal tray. Then, from a vessel 
of steaming hot water that stood at his elbow, he 
drew the long, flat-headed Bingham knife, and with 
one swift slithering cut removed the whole of the 
cell-cappings from the surface of the comb. At 


once the knife was thrown back into its smoking 
bath, and a second one taken out, with which the 
other side of the comb was treated. Then the comb 
was hung in the rack of the trolley, and the keen 
hot blades went to work on another frame. As 
each trolley was fully loaded it was whisked off to 
the extracting-machine and another took its place. 

" All this work," explained the bee-master, as 
we passed on, " is done after dark, because in the 
daytime the bees would smell the honey and would 
besiege us. So we cannot begin extracting until 
they are all safely hived for the night." He stopped 
before a row of bulky cylinders. " These," he 
said, " are the honey ripeners. Each of them holds 
about twenty gallons, and all the honey is kept here 
for three or four days to mature before it is ready 
for market. If we were to send it out at once it 
would ferment and spoil. In the top of each drum 
there are fine wire strainers, and the honey must run 
through these, and finally through thick flannel, 
before it gets into the cylinder. Then, when it is 
ripe, it is drawn off and bottled." 

One of the big cylinders was being tapped at the 
moment. A workman came up with a kind of 
gardener's water-tank on wheels. The valve of the 
honey-vat was opened, and the rich fluid came 
gushing out like liquid amber. " This is all white- 
clover honey," said the bee-master, tasting it 
critically. " The next vat there ought to be pure 
sainfoin. Sometimes the honey has a distinct almond 
flavour; that is when hawthorn is abundant. Honey 
varies as much as wine. It is good or bad accord- 
ing to the soil and the season. Where the horse- 
chestnut is plentiful the honey has generally a rank 


taste. But this is a sheep-farmers' country, where 
they grow thousands of acres of rape and lucerne 
and clover for sheep-feed; and nothing could be 
better for the bees." 

By this time the gardener's barrow was full to 
the brim. We followed it as it was trundled 
heavily away to another part of the building. Here 
a little company of women were busy filling the 
neat glass jars, with their bright screw-covers of 
tin; pasting on the label of the big London stores, 
whither most of the honey was sent; and packing 
the jars into their travelling-cases ready for the 
railway-van in the morning. The whole place 
reeked with the smell of new honey and the faint, 
indescribable odour of the hives. As we passed out 
of the busy scene of the extracting-house into the 
moist dark night again, this peculiar fragrance struck 
upon us overpoweringly. The slow wind was 
setting our way, and the pungent odour from the 
hives came up on it with a solid, almost stifling, 

" They are fanning hard to-night," said the 
bee-master, as we stopped halfway down the garden. 
" Listen to the noise they're making!" 

The moon was just tilting over the tree-tops. In 
its dim light the place looked double its actual size. 
We seemed to stand in the midst of a great town of 
bee-dwellings, stretching vaguely away into the 
darkness. And from every hive there rose the 
clear deep murmur of the ventilating bees. 

The bee-master lighted his lantern, and held it 
down close to the entrance of the nearest hive. 

" Look how they form up in rows, one behind 
the other, with their heads to the hive; and a,U 


fanning with their wings ! They are drawing the 
hot air out. Inside there is another regiment of 
them, but those are facing the opposite way, and 
drawing the cool air in. And so they keep the hive 
always at the right temperature for honey-making, 
and for hatching out the young bees." 

" Who was it," he asked ruminatively, as the 
gate of the bee-farm closed at last behind us, and 
we were walking homeward through the glimmer- 
ing dusk of the lane — " who was it first spoke of the 
' busy bee ' ? Busy ! 'Tis not the word for it I 
Why, from the moment she is born to the day she 
dies the bee never rests nor sleeps ! It is hard 
work night and day, from the cradle-cell to the 
grave; and in the honey-season she dies of it after 
a month or so. It is only the drone that rests. He 
is very like some humans I know of his own sex; 
he lives an idle life, and leaves the work to the 
womenkind. But the drone has to pay for it in 
the end, for the drudging woman-bee revolts sooner 
or later. And then she kills him. In bee-life the 
drone always dies a violent death; but in human 
life — well, it seems to me a little bee-justice wouldn't 
be amiss with some of them." 



" ,r PIS a good thing — life; but ye never know how 
good, really, till you've followed the bees to 
the heather." 

It was an old saying of the bee-master's, and it 
came again slowly from his lips now, as he knelt 
by the camp-fire, watching the caress of the flames 
round the bubbling pot. We were in the heart of 
the Sussex moorland, miles away from the nearest 
village, still farther from the great bee-farm where, 
at other times, the old man drove his thriving 
trade. But the bees were here — a million of them 
perhaps — all singing their loudest in the blossom- 
ing heather that stretched away on every side 
to the far horizon, under the sweltering August 

Getting the bees to the moors was always the 
chief event of the year down at the honey-farm. 
For days the waggons stood by the laneside,, all 
ready to be loaded up with the best and most 
populous hives; but the exact moment of departure 
depended on one very uncertain factor. The white- 
clover crop was almost at an end. Every day saw 
the acreage of sainfoin narrowing, as the sheep- 
E 65 


folds closed in upon it, leaving nothing but bare 
yellow waste, where had been a rolling sea of 
crimson blossom. But the charlock lay on every 
hillside like cloth-of-gold. Until harvest was done 
the fallows were safe from the ploughshare, and 
what proved little else than a troublesome weed to 
the farmer was like golden guineas growing to 
every keeper of bees. 

But at last the new moon brought a sharp chilly 
night with it, and the long-awaited signal was given. 
Coming down with the first grey glint of morning 
from the little room under the thatch, I found the 
bee-garden in a swither of commotion. A faint 
smell of carbolic was on the air, and the shadowy 
figures of the bee-master and his men were hurrying 
from hive to hive, taking off the super-racks that 
stood on many three and four stories high. The 
honey-barrows went to and fro groaning under 
their burdens; and the earliest bees, roused from 
their rest by this unwonted turmoil, filled the grey 
dusk with their high timorous note. 

The bee-master came over to me in his white 
overalls, a weird apparition in the half-darkness. 

" 'Tis the honey-dew," he said, out of breath, as 
he passed by. " The first cold night of summer 
brings it out thick on every oak-leaf for miles 
around; and if we don't get the supers off before 
the bees can gather it, the honey will be blackened 
and spoiled for market." 

He carried a curious bundle with him, an armful 
of fluttering pieces of calico, and I followed him 
as he went to work on a fresh row of hives. From 
each bee-dwelling the roof was thrown off, the 
inner CQverings removed, and one qf the squares 


of cloth— damped with the carbolic solution— quickly- 
drawn over the topmost rack. A sudden fearsome 
buzzing uprose within, and then a sudden silence. 
There is nothing in the world a bee dreads more 
than the smell of carbolic acid. In a few seconds 
the super-racks were deserted, the bees crowding 
down into the lowest depths of the hives. The 
creaking barrows went down the long row in the 
track of the master, taking up the heavy racks as 
they passed. Before the sun was well up over the 
hill-brow the last load had been safely gathered in, 
and the chosen hives were being piled into the 
waggons, ready for the long day's journey to the 

All this was but a week ago; yet it might have 
been a week of years, so completely had these rose- 
red highland solitudes accepted our invasion, and 
absorbed us into their daily round of sun and song. 
Here, in a green hollow of velvet turf, right in the 
heart of the wilderness, the camp had been pitched — 
the white bell-tents with their skirts drawn up, 
showing the spindle-legged field-bedsteads within; 
the filling-house, made of lath and gauze, where the 
racks could be emptied and recharged with the little 
white wood section-boxes, safe from marauding 
bees; the honey-store, with its bee-proof crates 
steadily mounting one upon the other, laden with 
rich brown heather-honey — the finest sweet-food in 
the world. And round the camp, in a vast spread- 
ing circle, stood the hives — a hundred or more — 
knee-deep in the rosy thicket, each facing outward, 
and each a whirling vortex of life from early dawn 
to the last amber gleam of sunset abiding under the 
flinching silver of the stars, 


The camp-fire crackled and hissed, and the pot 
sent forth a savoury steam into the morning air. 
From the heather the deep chant of busy thousands 
came over on the wings of the breeze, bringing 
with it the very spirit of serene content. The bee- 
master rose and stirred the pot ruminatively. 

" B'iled rabbit!" said he, looking up, with the 
light of old memories coming in his gnarled brown 
face. " And forty years ago, when I first came to 
the heather, it used to be b'iled rabbit too. We 
could set a snare in those days as well as now. 
But 'twas only a few hives then, a dozen or so of 
old straw skeps on a barrow, and naught but the 
starry night for a roof-tree, or a sack or two to 
keep off the rain. None of your women's luxuries 
in those times! " 

He looked round rather disparagingly at his own 
tent, with its plain truckle-bed, and tin wash-bowl, 
and other deplorable signs of effeminate self- 

" But there was one thing," he went on, "one 
thing we used to bring to the moors that never 
comes now. And that was the basket of sulphur- 
rag. When the honey-flow is done, and the waggons 
come to fetch us home again, all the hives will go 
back to their places in the garden none the worse 
for their trip. But in the old days of bee-burning 
never a bee of all the lot returned from the moors. 
Come a little way into the long grass yonder, and 
I'll show ye the way of it." 

With a stick he threshed about in the dry bents, 
and soon lay bare a row of circular cavities in the 
ground. They were almost choked up with moss 
and the rank undergrowth of many years; but 


originally they must have been each about ten 
inches broad by as many deep. 

" These," said the bee-master, with a shamefaced 
air of confession, " were the sulphur-pits. I dug 
them the first year I ever brought hives to the 
heather; and here, for twenty seasons or more, 
some of the finest and strongest stocks in Sussex 
were regularly done to death. Tis a drab tale to 
tell, but we knew no better then. To get the honey 
away from the bees looked well-nigh impossible 
with thousands of them clinging all over the combs. 
And it never occurred to any of us to try the other 
way, and get the bees to leave the honey. Yet bee- 
driving, 'tis the simplest thing in the world, as 
every village lad knows to-day." 

We strolled out amongst the hives, and the bee- 
master began his leisurely morning round of 
inspection. In the bee-camp, life and work alike 
took their time from the slow march of the summer 
sun, deliberate, imperturbable, across the pathless 
heaven. The bees alone keep up the heat and 
burden of the day. While they were charging in 
and out of the hives, possessed with a perfect fury 
of labour, the long hours of sunshine went by for 
us in immemorial calm. Like the steady rise and 
fall of a windless tide, darkness and day succeeded 
one another; and the morning splash in the 
dew-pond on the top of the hill, and the song by the 
camp-fire at night, seemed divided only by a dim 
formless span too uneventful and happy to be called 
by the old portentous name of Time. 

And yet every moment had its business, not to be 
delayed beyond its imminent season. Down in the 
bee-farm the work of honey-harvesting always 


carried with it a certain stress and bustle. The 
great centrifugal extractor would be roaring half 
the night through, emptying the super-combs, which 
were to be put back into the hives on the morrow, 
and refilled by the bees. But here, on the moors, 
modern bee-science is powerless to hurry the work 
of the sunshine. The thick heather-honey defies 
the extracting-machine, and cannot be separated 
without destroying the comb. Moorland honey — 
except where the wild sage is plentiful enough to 
thin down the heather sweets — must be left in the 
virgin comb; and the bee-man can do little more 
than look on as vigilantly as may be at the work of 
his singing battalions, and keep the storage-space 
of the hives always well in advance of their need. 

Yet there is one danger — contingent at all 
seasons of bee-life, but doubly to be guarded 
against during the critical time of the honey-flow. 

As we loitered round the great circle, the old bee- 
keeper halted in the rear of every hive to watch the 
contending streams of workers, the one rippling 
out into the blue air and sunshine, the other setting 
more steadily homeward, each bee weighed down 
with her load of nectar and pale grey pollen, as she 
scrambled desperately through the opposing crowd 
and vanished into the seething darkness within. 
As we passed each hive, the old bee-man carefully 
noted its strength and spirit, comparing it with the 
condition of its neighbours on either hand. At 
last he stopped by one of the largest hives, and 
pointed to it significantly. 

"Can ye see aught amiss?" he asked, hastily 
rolling his shirt-sleeves up to the armpit. 

I looked, but could detect nothing wrong. The 


multitude round the entrance to this hive seemed 
larger and busier than with any other, and the note 
within as deeply resonant. 

"Ay! they're erpulous enough," said the bee- 
master, as he lighted his tin-nozzled bellows-smoker 
and coaxed it into full blast. " But hark to the din! 
Tis not work this time; 'tis mortal fear of some- 
thing. Flying strong? Ah, but only a yard or 
two up, and back again. There's trouble at hand, 
and they've only just found it out. The matter is, 
they have lost their queen." 

He was hurriedly removing the different parts of 
the hive as he spoke. A few quick puffs from the 
smoker were all that was needed at such a time. 
With no thought but for the tragedy that had come 
upon them, the bees were rushing madly to and fro 
in the hive, not paying the slightest attention to the 
fact that their house was falling asunder piecemeal 
and the sudden sunshine riddling it through and 
through, where had been nothing but Cimmerian 
darkness before. Under the steady slow hand of 
the master, the teeming section-racks came off one 
by one, until the lowest chamber — the nursery of 
the hive — was reached, and a note like imprisoned 
thunder in miniature burst out upon us. 

The old bee-keeper lifted out the brood-frames, 
and subjected each to a lynx-eyed scrutiny. At last 
he dived his bare hand down into the thick of the 
bees, and brought up something to show me. It 
was the dead queen; twice the size of all the rest, 
with short oval wings and a shining red-gold body, 
strangely conspicuous among the score or so of 
dun-coloured workers which still crowded round her 
on the palm of his hand. 


" In the old days," said the bee-master, " before 
the movable-comb hive was invented, if the queen 
died like this, it would throw the whole colony out 
of gear for the rest of the season. Three weeks 
must elapse before a new queen could be hatched 
and got ready for work; and then the honey-harvest 
would be over. But see how precious time can be 
saved under the modern system." 

He led the way to a hive which stood some dis- 
tance apart from the rest. It was much smaller 
than the others, and consisted merely of a row of 
little boxes, each with its separate entrance, but all 
under one common roof. The old bee-man opened 
one of the compartments, and lifted out its single 
comb-frame, on which were clustered only a few 
hundred bees. Searching among these with a 
wary forefinger, at last he seized one by the wings 
and held it up to view. 

" This is a spare queen," said he. " 'Tis always 
wise to bring a few to the heather, against any mis- 
chance. And now we'll give her to the motherless 
bees; and in an hour or two the stock will be at 
work again as busily as ever." 



" TN that bit of forest," said the bee-master, indic- 
ating a long stretch of neighbouring woodland 
with one comprehensive sweep of his thumb, " there 
are tons of honey waiting for any man who knows 
how to find it." 

I had met and stopped the old bee-keeper and his 
men, bent on what seemed a rather singular under- 
taking. They carried none of the usual implements 
of their craft, but were laden up with the 
paraphernalia of woodmen — rip-saws and hatchets 
and climbing-irons, and a mysterious box or 
two, the use of which I could not even guess 
at. But the bee-master soon made his errand 

" Tons of honey," he went on. " And we are 
going to look for some of it. There have been 
wild bees, I suppose, in the forest country from the 
beginning of things. Then see how the land lies. 
There are villages all round, and for ages past 
swarms have continually got away from the bee- 
gardens, and hived themselves in the hollow trunks 



of the trees. Then every year these stray colonies 
have sent out their own swarms again, until to-day 
the woods are full of bees, wild as wolves and often 
as savage, guarding stores that have been accumu- 
lating perhaps for years and years." 

He shifted his heavy kit from one shoulder to the 
other. Overhead the sun burned in a cloudless 
August sky, and the willow-herb by the roadside 
was full of singing bees and the nicker of white 
butterflies. In the hedgerows there were more bees 
plundering the blackberry blossom, or sounding 
their vagrant note in the white convolvulus-bells 
which hung in bridal wreaths at every turn of the 
way. Beyond the hedgerow the yellow cornlands 
flowed away over hill and dale under the torrid 
light; and each scarlet poppy that hid in the rustling 
gold-brown wheat had its winged musician chanting 
at its portal. As I turned and went along with the 
expedition, the bee-master gave me more details of 
the coming enterprise. 

" Mind you," he said, " this is not good beeman- 
ship as the moderns understand it. It is nothing 
but bee-murder, of the old-fashioned kind. But 
even if the bees could be easily taken alive, we 
should not want them in the apiary. Blood counts 
in bee-life, as in everything else; and these 
forest-bees have been too long under the old natural 
conditions to be of any use among the domestic 
strain. However, the honey is worth the getting, 
and if we can land only one big stock or two it will 
be a profitable day's work." 

We had left the hot, dusty lane, and taken to 
the field-path leading up through a sea of white 
clover to the woods above. 


" This is the after-crop," said the bee-master, as 
he strode on ahead with his jingling burden. " The 
second cut of Dutch clover always gives the most 
honey. Listen to the bees everywhere — it is just 
like the roar of London heard from the top of St 
Paul's ! And most of it here is going into the 
woods, more's the pity. Well, well; we must try 
to get some of it back to-day." 

Between the verge of the clover-field and the 
shadowy depths of the forest ran a broad green 
waggon-way; and here we came to a halt. In the 
field we had lately traversed the deep note of the 
bees had sounded mainly underfoot; but now it was 
all above us, as the honeymakers sped to and fro 
between the sunlit plane of blossom and their hidden 
storehouses in the wood. The upper air was full 
of their music ; but, straining the sight to its utmost, 
not a bee. could be seen. 

" And you will never see them," said the bee- 
master, watching me as he unpacked his kit. 
" They fly too fast and too high. And if you can't 
see them go by out here in the broad sunshine, how 
will you track them to their lair through the dim 
light under the trees? And yet," he went on, 
" that is the only way to do it. It is useless to 
search the wood for their nests; you might travel 
the whole day through and find nothing. The 
only plan is to follow the laden bees returning 
to the hive. And now watch how we do that in 

From one of the boxes he produced a contrivance 
like a flat tin saucer mounted on top of a pointed 
stick. He stuck this in the ground near the edge 
of the clover-field so that the saucer stood on a 


level with the highest blossoms. Now he took a 
small bottle of honey from his pocket, emptied it 
into the tin receptacle, and beckoned me to come 
near. Already three or four bees had discovered 
this unawaited feast and settled on it; a minute 
more and the saucer was black with crowding bees. 
Now the bee-master took a wire-gauze cover and 
softly inverted it over the saucer. Then, plucking 
his ingenious trap up by the roots, he set off 
towards the forest with his prisoners, followed by 
his men. 

" These," said he, " are our guides to the secret 
treasure-chamber. Without them we might look 
for a week and never find it. But now it is all 
plain sailing, as you'll see." 

He pulled up on the edge of the wood. By this 
time every bee in the trap had forsaken the honey, 
and was clambering about in the top of the dome- 
shaped lid, eager for flight. 

" They are all full of honey," said the bee-master, 
" and the first thing a fully-laden bee thinks of is 
home. And now we will set the first one on the 

He opened a small valve in the trap-cover, and 
allowed one of the bees to escape. She rose into 
the air, made a short circle, then sped away into the 
gloom of the wood. In a moment she was lost to 
sight, but the main direction of her course was clear; 
and we all followed helter-skelter until our leader 
called another halt. 

" Now watch this one," he said, pressing the 
valve again. 

This time the guide rose high into the dim 
air, and was at once lost to my view. But 


the keen eyes of the old bee-man had challenged 

' There she goes ! " he said, pointing down a 
long shadowy glade somewhat to his left. " Watch 
that bit of sunlight away yonder! " 

I followed this indication. Through the dense 
wood-canopy a hundred feet away the sun had thrust 
one long golden tentacle; and I saw a tiny spark of 
light flash through into the gloom beyond. We all 
stampeded after it. 

Another and another of the guides was set free, 
each one taking us deeper into the heart of the 
forest, until at last the bee-master suddenly stopped 
and held up his hand. 

" Listen! " he said under his breath. 

Above the rustling of the leaves, above the quiet 
stir of the undergrowth and the crooning of the 
stock-doves, a shrill insistent note came over to us 
on the gentle wind. The bee-man led the way 
silently into the darkest depths of the wood. Halt- 
ing, listening, going swiftly forward in turn, at last 
he stopped at the foot of an old decayed elm-stump. 
The shrill note we had heard was much louder now, 
and right overhead. Following his pointing fore- 
finger, I saw a dark cleft in the old trunk about 
twenty feet above; and round this a cloud of bees 
was circling, filling the air with their rich deep 
labour-song. At the same instant, with a note like 
the twang of a harp-string, a bee came at me and 
fastened a red-hot fish-hook into my cheek. The 
old bee-keeper laughed. 

" Get this on as soon as you can," he said, pro- 
ducing a pocketful of bee-veils, and handing me 
qne from the bunch. " These are wild bees, thirty 


thousand of them, maybe; and we shall need 
all our armour to-day. Only wait till they find 
us out ! But now rub your hands all over with 

Every man scrambled into his veil, and anointed 
his hands with the oil of wintergreen — the one 
abiding terror of vindictive bees. And then the 
real business of the day commenced. 

The bee-master had strapped on his climbing- 
irons. Now he struck his way slowly up the tree, 
tapping the wood with the butt-end of a hatchet 
inch by inch as he went. At last he found what he 
wanted. The trunk rang hollow about a dozen feet 
from the ground. Immediately he began to cut it 
away. The noise of the hatchet woke all the echoes 
of the forest. The chips came fluttering to the 
earth. The rich murmur overhead changed to an 
angry buzzing. In a moment the bees were on the 
worker in a vortex of humming fury, covering his 
veil, his clothes, his hands. But he worked on 
unconcernedly until he had driven a large hole 
through the crust of the tree and laid bare the 
glistening honeycomb within. Now I saw him take 
from a sling-bag at his side handful after handful 
of some yellow substance and heap it into the 
cavity he had made. Then he struck a match, 
lighted the stuff, and came sliding swiftly to earth 
again. We all drew off and waited. 

"That," explained the bee-master, as he leaned 
on his woodman's axe out of breath, " is cotton- 
waste, soaked in creosote, and then smothered in 
powdered brimstone. See! it is burning famously. 
The fumes will soon fill the hollow of the tree and 
settle the whole company. Then we shall cut away 


enough of the rotten wood above to get all the best 
of the combs out; there are eighty pounds of good 
honey up there, or I'm no bee-man. And then it's 
back to the clover-field for more guide-bees, and 
away on a new scent." 



TT was a strange procession coming up the red- 
tiled path of the bee garden. The bee-master 
led the way in his Sunday clothes, followed by a 
gorgeous footman, powdered and cockaded, who 
carried an armful of wraps and cushions. Behind 
him walked two more, supporting between them a 
kind of carrying-chair, in which sat a florid old 
gentleman in a Scotch plaid shawl; and behind these 
again strode a silk-hatted, black-frocked man 
carefully regulating the progress of the cavalcade. 
Through the rain of autumn leaves, on the brisk 
October morning, I could see, afar off, a carriage 
waiting by the lane-side; a big old-fashioned family 
vehicle, with cockaded servants, a pair of champing 
greys, and a glitter of gold and scarlet on the panel, 
where the sunbeams struck on an elaborate coat-of- 

The whole procession made for the extracting- 
house, and all work stopped at its approach. The 
great centrifugal machine ceased its humming. The 
doors of the packing-room were closed, shutting 
qfi the din of saw and hammer. Over the stone 



floor in front of the furnace— where a big caldron 
of metheglin was simmering— a carpet was hastily 
unrolled, and a comfortable couch brought out and 
set close to the cheery blaze. 

And now the strangest part of the proceedings 
commenced. The old gentleman was brought in, 
partially disrobed, and transferred to the couch by 
the fireside. He seemed in great trepidation about 
something. He kept his gold eyeglasses turned on 
the bee-master, watching him with a sort of terrified 
wonder, as the old bee-man produced a mysterious 
box, with a lid of perforated zinc, and laid it on the 
table close by. From my corner the whole scene 
was strongly reminiscent of the ogre's kitchen in 
the fairy-tale; and the muffled sounds from the pack- 
ing-room might have been the voice of the ogre 
himself, complaining at the lateness of his dinner. 

Now, at a word from the black-coated man, the 
bee-master opened his box. A loud angry buzzing 
uprose, and about a dozen bees escaped into the air, 
and flew straight for the window-glass. The bee- 
master followed them, took one carefully by the 
wings, and brought it over to the old gentleman. 
His apprehensions visibly redoubled. The doctor 
seized him in an iron, professional grip. 

" Just here, I think. Close under the shoulder- 
blade. Now, your lordship ..." 

Viciously the infuriated bee struck home. For 
eight or ten seconds she worked her wicked will on 
the patient. Then, turning round and round, she 
at last drew out her sting, and darted back to the 

But the bee-master was ready with another of his 
living stilettos. Half a dozen times the operation 


was repeated on various parts of the suffering 
patient's body. Then the old gentleman — who, by 
this time, had passed from whimpering through the 
various stages of growing indignation to sheer 
undisguised profanity — was restored to his apparel. 
The procession was re-formed, and the bee-master 
conducted it to the waiting carriage, with the same 
ceremony as before. 

As we stood looking after the retreating vehicle, 
the old bee-man entered into explanations. 

" That," said he, " is Lord H , and he has 

been a martyr to rheumatism these ten years back. 
I could have cured him long ago if he had only 
come to me before, as I have done many a poor 
soul in these parts; but he, and those like him, are 
the last to hear of the physician in the hive. He 
will begin to get better now, as you will see. He 
is to be brought here every fortnight; but in a 
month or two he will not need the chair. And 
before the winter is out he will walk again as well 
as the best of us." 

We went slowly back through the bee-farm. 
The working-song of the bees seemed as loud as 
ever in the keen October sunshine. But the steady 
deep note of summer was gone; and the peculiar 
bee-voice of autumn — shrill, anxious, almost 
vindictive — rang out on every side. 

" Of course," continued the bee-master, " there 
is nothing new in this treatment of rheumatism by 
bee-stings. It is literally as old as the hills. Every 
bee-keeper for the last two thousand years has 
known of it. But it is as much as a preventive as 
a cure that the acid in a bee's sting is valuable. 
The rarest thing in the world is to find a bee-keeper 


suffering from rheumatism. And if every one kept 
bees, and got stung occasionally, the doctors would 
soon have one ailment the less to trouble about." 

" But," he went on, " there is something much 
pleasanter and more valuable to humanity, ill or 
well, to be got from the hives. And that is the 
honey itself. Honey is good for old and young. 
If mothers were wise they would never give 
their children any other sweet food. Pure 
ripe honey is sugar with the most difficult and 
most important part of digestion already accom- 
plished by the bees. Moreover, it is a safe and 
very gentle laxative. And probably, before each 
comb-cell is sealed up, the bee injects a drop of acid 
from her sting. Anyway, honey has a distinct 
aseptic property. That is why it is so good for sore 
throats or chafed skins." 

We had got back to the extracting house, where 
the great caldron of metheglin was still bubbling 
over the fire. The old bee-keeper relieved himself 
of his stiff Sunday coat, donned his white linen over- 
alls, and fell to skimming the pot. 

" There is another use," said he, after a 
ruminative pause, " to which honey might be put, 
if only doctors could be induced to seek curative 
power in ancient homely things, as they do with the 
latest new poisons from Germany. That is in the 
treatment of obesity. Fat people, who are ordered 
to give up sugar, ought to use honey instead. In 
my time I have persuaded many a one to try it, and 
the result has always been the same— a steady 
reduction in weight, and better health all round. 
Then, again, dyspeptic folk would find most of their 
troubles vanish if they substituted the already half- 


digested honey wherever ordinary sugar forms part 
of their diet. And did you ever try honey to 
sweeten tea or coffee? Of course, it must be pure, 
and without any strongly-marked flavour; but no 
one would ever return to sugar if once good honey 
had been tried in this way, or in any kind of cookery 
where sugar is used." 

The bee-master ran his fingers through his hair, 
of which he had a magnificent iron-grey crop. 
The fingers were undeniably sticky; but it was an 
old habit of his, when in thoughtful mood, and the 
action seemed to remind him of something. His 
eyes twinkled merrily. 

" Now," said he, " you are a writer for the 
papers, and you may therefore want to go into the 
hair-restoring business some day. Well, here is a 
recipe for you. It is nothing but honey and water, 
in equal parts, but it is highly recommended by all 
the ancient writers on beemanship. Have I tried 
it? Well, no; at least, not intentionally. But in 
extracting honey it gets into most places, the hair 
not excepted. At any rate, honey as a hair-restorer 
was one of the most famous nostrums of the Middle 
Ages, and may return to popular favour even now. 
However, here is something there can be no 
question about." 

He went to a cupboard, and brought out a jar 
full of a viscid yellow substance. 

"This," he said, "is an embrocation, and it is 
the finest thing I know for sprains and bruises. It 
is made of the wax from old combs, dissolved in 
turpentine, and if we got nothing else from the 
hives bee-keeping would yet be justified as a 
humanitarian calling. Its virtues may be in the 

The physician in the hive 8s 

wax, or they may be due to the turpentine, but 
probably they lie in another direction altogether. 
Bees collect a peculiar resinous matter from pine 
trees and elsewhere, with which they varnish the 
whole surface of their combs, and this may be the 
real curative element in the stuff." 

Now, with a glance at the clock, the bee-master 
went to the open door and hailed his foreman in 
from his work about the garden. Between them 
they lifted away the heavy caldron from the fire, 
and tilted its steaming contents into a barrel close 
at hand. The whole building filled at once with a 
sweet penetrating odour, which might well have 
been the concentrated fragrance of every summer 
flower on the countryside. 

-" But of all the good things given us by the wise 
physician of the hive," quoth the old bee-keeper, 
enthusiastically, " there is nothing so good as well- 
brewed metheglin. This is just as I have made it 
for forty years, and as my father made it long 
before that. Between us we have been brewing 
mead for more than a century. It is almost a lost 
art now; but here in Sussex there are still a few 
antiquated folk who make it, and some, even, who 
remember the old methers — the ancient cups it used 
to be quaffed from. As an everyday drink for 
working-men, wholesome, nourishing, cheering, 
there is nothing like it in or out of the Empire. 



'"FHE light snow covered the path through the 
bee-farm, and whitened the roof of every hive. 
In the red winter twilight it looked more like a 
human city than ever, with its long double rows of 
miniature houses stretching away into the dusk on 
either hand, and its broad central thoroughfare, 
where the larger hives crowded shoulder to 
shoulder, casting their black shadows over the 
glimmering snow. 

The bee-master led the way towards the extract- 
ing-house at the end of the garden, as full of his 
work, seemingly, as ever he had been in the press 
of summer days. There was noise enough going 
on in the long lighted building ahead of us, but I 
missed the droning song of the great extractor 

" No; we have done with honey work for this 
year," said the old bee-man. " It is all bottled and 
cased long ago, and most of it gone to London. 
But there's work enough still, as you'll see. The 
bees get their long rest in the winter; but, on a big 
honey-farm, the humans must work all the year 


*5 BBSfe* ^^ 



As we drew into the zone of light from the 
windows, many sounds that from afar had seemed 
incongruous enough on the silent, frost-bound 
evening began to explain themselves. The whole 
building was full of busy life. A furnace roared 
under a great caldron of smoking syrup, which the 
foreman was vigorously stirring. In the far 
corner an oil engine clanked and spluttered. A 
circular saw was screaming through a baulk of 
timber, slicing it up into thin planks as a man would 
turn over the leaves of a book. Planing machines 
and hammers and handsaws innumerable added 
their voices to the general chorus; and out of the 
shining steel jaws of an implement that looked half 
printing-press and half clothes-wringer there flowed 
sheet after sheet of some glistening golden material, 
the use of which I could only dimly guess at. 

But I had time only for one swift glance at this 
mysterious monster. The bee-master gripped me 
by the arm and drew me towards the furnace. 

" This is bee-candy," he explained, " winter food 
for the hives. We make a lot of it and send it all 
over the country. But it's ticklish work. When the 
syrup comes to the galloping-point it must boil for 
one minute, no more and no less. If we boil it too 
little it won't set, and if too much it goes hard, and 
the bees can't take it." 

He took up his station now, watch in hand, close 
to the man who was stirring, while two or three 
others looked anxiously on. 

"Time! " shouted the bee-master. 

The great caldron swung off the stove on its sus- 
pending chain. Near the fire stood a water tank, 
and into this the big vessel of boiling syrup was 


suddenly doused right up to the brim, the stirrer 
labouring all the time at the seething grey mass 
more furiously than ever. 

" The quicker we can cool it the better it is," 
explained the old bee-keeper, through the steam. 
He was peering into the caldron as he spoke, watch- 
ing the syrup change from dark clear grey to a 
dirty white, like half-thawed snow. Now he gave a 
sudden signal. A strong rod was instantly passed 
through the handles of the caldron. The vessel 
was whisked out of its icy bath and borne rapidly 
away. Following hard upon its heels, we saw the 
bearers halt near some long, low trestle-tables, 
where hundreds of little wooden boxes were ranged 
side by side. Into these the thick, sludgy syrup 
was poured as rapidly as possible, until all were 

" Each box," said the bee-master, as we watched 
the candy gradually setting snow-white in its 
wooden frames, " each box holds about a pound. 
The box is put into the hive upside-down on the top 
of the comb-frames, just over the cluster of bees; 
and the bottom is glazed because then you can see 
when the candy is exhausted, and the time has come 
to put on another case. What is it made of? 
Well, every maker has his own private formula, 
and mine is a secret like the rest. But it is sugar, 
mostly — cane-sugar. Beet-sugar will not do; it is 
injurious to the bees. 

" But candy-making," he went on, as we moved 
slowly through the populous building, "is by no 
means the only winter work on a bee-farm. There 
are the hives to make for next season; all those we 
shall need for ourselves, and hundreds more we 


sell in the spring, either empty or stocked with 
bees. Then here is the foundation mill." 

^ He turned to the contrivance I had noticed on 
my entry. The thin amber sheets of material, like 
crinkled glass, were still flowing out between the 
rollers. He took a sheet of it as it fell, and held it 
up to the light. A fine hexagonal pattern covered 
it completely from edge to edge. 

" This," he said, " we call super- foundation. It 
is pure refined wax, rolled into sheets as thin as 
paper, and milled on both sides with the shapes of 
the cells. All combs now are built by the bees on 
this artificial foundation; and there is enough wax 
here, thin as it is, to make the entire honeycomb. 
The bees add nothing to it, but simply knead it and 
draw it out into a comb two inches wide; and so all 
the time needed for wax-making by the bees is 
saved just when time is most precious — during the 
short season of the honey-flow." 

He took down a sheet from another pile close at 

" All that thin foundation," he explained, " is for 
section-honey, and will be eaten. But this you 
could not eat. This is brood-foundation, made 
extra strong to bear the great heat of the lower 
hive. It is put into the brood-nest, and the cells 
reared on it are the cradles for the young bees. 
See how dense and brown it is, and how thick; it 
is six or seven times as heavy as the other. But 
it is all pure wax, though not so refined, and is 
made in the same way, serving the same useful, 
time-saving purpose." 

We moved on towards the store-roons, out of the 
clatter of the machinery. 


" It was a great day," he said, reflectively, " a 
great day for bee-keeping when foundation was 
invented. The bee-man who lets his hives work on 
the old obsolete natural system nowadays makes a 
hopeless handicap of things. Yet the saving of 
time and bee-labour is not the only, and is hardly 
the most important, outcome of the use of founda- 
tion. It has done a great deal more than that, for 
it has solved the very weighty problem of how to 
keep the number of drones in a hive within 
reasonable limits." 

He opened the door of a small side-room. From 
ceiling to floor the walls were covered with deep 
racks loaded with frames of empty comb, all 
ready for next season. Taking down a couple 
of the frames, he brought them out into the 

" These will explain to you what I mean," said 
he. "■ This first one is a natural-built comb, made 
without the milled foundation. The centre and 
upper part, you see, is covered on both sides with 
the small cells of the worker-brood. But all the 
rest of the frame is filled with larger cells, and in 
these only drones are bred. Bees, if left to them- 
selves, will always rear a great many more drones 
than are needed; and as the drones gather no stores 
but only consume them in large quantities, a super- 
abundance of the male-bees in a hive must mean a 
diminished honey-yield. But the use of foundation 
has changed all that. Now look at this other 
frame. By filling all brood-frames with worker- 
foundation, as has been done here, we compel the 
bees to make only small cells, in which the rearing 
of drones is almost impossible; and so we keep 


the whole brood-space in the hive available for the 
generation of the working bee alone." 

" But," I asked him, " are not drones absolutely 
necessary in a hive? The population cannot 
increase without the male bees." 

" Good drones are just as important in a bee- 
garden as high-mettled, prolific queens," he said; 
" and drone-breeding on a small scale must form 
part of the work on every modern Bee-farm of any 
size. But my own practice is to confine the drones 
to two or three hives only. These are stationed in 
different parts of the farm. They are always 
selected stocks of the finest and most vigorous 
strain, and in them I encourage drone-breeding in 
every possible way. But the male bees in all 
honey-producing hives are limited to a few hundreds 
at most." 

Coming out into the darkness from the brilliantly- 
lighted building, we had gone some way on our 
homeward road through the crowded bee-farm 
before we marked the change that had come over 
the sky. Heavy vaporous clouds were slowly 
driving up from the west and blotting the stars out 
one by one. All their frosty sparkle was gone, and 
the night air had no longer the keen tooth of winter 
in it. The bee-master held up his hand. 

" Listenl " he said. " Don't you hear any- 
thing? " 

I strained my ears to their utmost pitch. A dog 
barked forlornly in the distant village. Some night- 
bird went past overhead with a faint jangling cry. 
But the slumbering bee-city around us was as silent 
and still as death. 

'-' When you have lived among bees for forty 


years," said the bee-master, plodding on again, 
" you may get ears as long as mine. Just reckon it 
out. The wind has changed; that curlew knows the 
warm weather is coming; but the bees, huddled to- 
gether in the midst of a double-walled hive, found 
it out long ago. Now, there are between three 
and four hundred hives here. At a very modest 
computation, there must be as many bees crowded 
together on these few acres of land as there are 
people in the whole of London and Brighton com- 
bined. And they are all awake, and talking, and 
telling each other that the cold spell is past. That 
is what I can hear now, and shall hear — down in 
the house yonder — all night long." 



OUEENS?" said the Bee-Master of Warrilow, 
as he filled his pipe with the blackest and 
strongest tobacco I had ever set eyes on; " queens? 
There are hundreds of hives here, as you can see; 
and there isn't a queen in any one of them." 

He drew at the pipe until he had coaxed it into 
full blast, and the smoke went drifting idly away 
through the still April sunshine. We were in the 
very midst of the bee-garden, sitting side by side on 
the honey-barrow after a long morning's work 
among the hives; and the old bee-man had lapsed 
into his usual contemplative mood. 

" 'Tis a pretty idea," he went on, " this of 
royalty, and a realm of dutiful subjects, and all the 
rest of it, in bee-life. But experience in apiculture, 
as with most things of this world, does away with 
a good many fine and fanciful notions. Now, the 
mother-bee in a hive, whatever else you might call 
her, is certainly not a queen, in the sense of ruling 
over the other bees in the colony. The truth is she 
has little or nothing to do with the direction of 
affairs. All the thinking and contriving is done by 



the worker-bees. They have the whole manage- 
ment of the hive, and simply look upon the queen as 
a much prized and carefully-guarded piece of egg- 
laying machinery, to be made the most of as long 
as her usefulness lasts, but to be thrown over and 
replaced by another the moment her powers begin 
to flag." 

" No; there are no queens, properly so called, in 
bee-life," he continued. ■" All that belongs to the 
good old times when there were nothing but straw- 
skeps, and 'twas well-nigh impossible to get at the 
rights of anything; so the bee-keeper went on 
believing that honey was made out of starshine, 
and young bees were bred from the juice of white 
honeysuckle, which was all pretty enough in its 
way, even though it warn't true. But nowadays, 
when they make hives with comb-frames that can 
be lifted out and looked at in the broad light of day, 
folk are beginning to understand a power of things 
about bees that were dark mysteries only a while 

He puffed at his pipe for a little in silence. Far 
away over the great province of hives, the clock 
on the extracting-house pointed to half-past twelve; 
and, true to their usual time, the home-staying bees 
— the housekeepers and nurses and lately hatched 
young ones — were out for their midday exercise. 
The foragers were going to and fro as thickly as 
ever with their loads of pollen and water for the 
still cradled larvae within; but now round every hive 
a little cloud of bees hovered, filling the sunshine 
with the drowsy music of their wings. The old 
bee-man took up his theme again presently at the 
point he had broken it off. 


" If," said he, " you keep a fairly close watch on 
the progress of any one particular hive, from the 
time the first eggs appear in the combs early in 
January, 'tis very easy to see how the old false 
ideas got into general use. At first glance a bee- 
colony looks very much like a kingdom; and the 
single large bee, that all the others pay court to and 
attend so carefully, seems very like a queen. Then, 
when you look a little deeper and begin to under- 
stand more, appearances are still all in favour of 
the old view of things. The mother-bee seems, on 
the face of it, a miracle of intelligence and foresight. 
While, as far as you know, all other creatures in the 
world bring forth their young of both sexes hap- 
hazard, this one can lay male or female eggs 
apparently at will. You watch her going from 
comb to comb, and the eggs she drops in the small 
cells hatch out females, and those she puts in the 
larger ones are always males, or drones. More 
than that: she seems always to know the exact 
condition of the hive, and to be able to limit her 
egg-laying according to its need, or otherwise, of 
population; for either you see her filling only a few 
cells each day in a little patch of comb that can be 
covered with the palm of your hand, or she goes to 
work on a gigantic scale, and, in twenty-four hours, 
produces eggs that weigh more than twice as much 
as her whole body." 

He got up now and began pacing to and fro, as 
was his custom when much in earnest over his bee- 

" Then," he went on, "to cap all, as the honey 
season draws on to its height, you are forced 
presently to realise that the queen has conceived and 


is carrying through a scheme for the good of her 
subjects that would do credit to the wisest ruler 
ever born in human purple. Every day of summer 
sunshine has brought thousands of young bees to 
life. The hive is getting overcrowded. Sooner or 
later one of two things must happen — either the 
increase of population must be checked, or a great 
party must be formed to leave the old home and go 
out to establish another one. Then it is that the 
mother-bee seems to prove beyond a doubt her 
wisdom and queenliness. She decides for the 
emigration; but as a leader must be found for the 
party, and none is at hand, she forms the resolve 
to head it herself. From that moment a change 
comes over the whole hive. Preparation for the 
coming event goes on fast and furiously, and excite- 
ment increases day by day. But the queen seems to 
forget nothing. A new ruler for the old realm 
must be provided to take her place when she is gone 
for ever; and now you see a party of bees set to 
work on something that fairly beggars curiosity. 
At first it looks exactly like an acorn-cup in wax 
hanging from the under-edge of the comb. Per- 
haps the next time you look the cup has grown to 
twice its original size; and now you see it is half 
full of a glistening white jelly. The next time, 
maybe, you open the hive, the acorn has been added 
to the cup ; the queen-cell is sealed over and finished, 
and about a week later there comes out a full-grown 
queen bee, twice the size of the ordinary worker 
and quite different in shape and often in colour too. 
But days before the new ruler is ready the excite- 
ment in the hive has grown to fever-pitch. If 
you come out then in the quiet of the night 


and put your ear close to the hive, you will hear a 
shrill piping noise which the ancient skeppists tell 
you is the old queen calling her subjects together 
for the swarm on the morrow. And, sure enough, 
out she goes with half the population of the hive in 
her train, to look for a new home; and in a day 
or so the new queen comes out of her cell to take 
charge of the colony." 

He paused to fill the old briar pipe again, 
lighting it with slow deliberate puffs, and I could 
not help marking how nearly alike in colour were 
the bowl and his rugged, sunburnt, clever face. 

" But now, look you! " said he, suddenly 
levelling the pipe-stem like a pistol at me to 
emphasise his words. " If the mother-bee really 
brought all this about, queen would not be a good 
enough name for her. But the truth is, throughout 
all the wonder-workings of the hive, the queen is 
little more than an instrument, a kind of automaton, 
merely doing what the workers compel her to do. 
They are the real queens in the hive, and the mother- 
bee is the one and only subject. Did you ever 
think what a queen-bee actually is, and how she 
conies to be there at all? The fact is that the 
workers have made her for their own wise purposes, 
just as they make the comb and the honey to store 
in it. The egg she is hatched from is in no way 
different from any worker-egg. If you take one 
from a queen-cell and put it in the ordinary comb, 
it will hatch out a common female worker-bee : and 
an egg transferred from worker-comb to a queen- 
cell becomes a full-grown queen. Thousands and 
thousands of worker-eggs are laid in a hive during 
the season, and each of those could be made into 


a queen if the workers chose. But the worker-egg 
is laid into a small cell, and the larva is bred on a 
bare minimum of food, at the least possible cost in 
time, trouble, and space to the hive; while, when 
a new queen is wanted, a cell as big as your finger- 
top is built, and the larva is stuffed like a prize-pig 
through all its five days of active life, until, with 
unlimited food and time and room to grow in, it 
comes out at last a perfect mother-bee." 

" But," I asked him, " how is the population in 
the hive regulated, and how can the apportionment 
of the sexes be brought about? If, as you say, the 
queen does only what she is made to do by the 
workers, and that unthinkingly and mechanically, 
you only increase the difficulty of the problem." 

" As for increasing or restricting the number of 
eggs laid," he said, " that is only a question of 
food; and here you see how the workers control the 
mother-bee entirely, and, through her, the whole con- 
dition of the hive. When she is egg-laying they feed 
her from their own mouths with special predigested 
food; and the more she gets of this, the more eggs are 
laid. But when the season is done, and the need 
for a large population over, this rich stimulating 
diet is kept from her. She then must go to the 
honey-cells like the rest, or starve; and at once her 
egg-laying powers begin to fall off. And it is in 
exactly the same way — by their management of the 
queen — that the workers control the proportion of 
the sexes in a hive. 'Tis more difficult to explain, 
but here is about the rights of it. Directly the new- 
hatched queen-bee is ready for work, she flies our 
to meet the drones; and one impregnation lasts her 
whole life through. But the eggs themselves are 


not fertilised until the very moment of laying, and 
then only in the case of those laid in worker-comb : 
drone-eggs are never impregnated at all. Now, in 
all likelihood, as the queen is being driven over tlje 
combs, it is the size of the cell that determines 
whether the egg laid shall be male or female. When 
the queen thrusts her long pointed body into the 
narrow worker-cell, her position is a straight, up- 
right one, and the egg cannot be laid without passing 
over the impregnation-gland; but with the larger 
drone-cell the queen has room to curve herself, 
which is the means, I think, of the egg escaping 
without being fertilised. And so you see it is only 
the female bee that has two parents; the drone has 
no father at all." 



"C^ROM the lane, where it dipped down between 
its rose-mantled hedges, nothing of the bee- 
garden could be seen. The dense barricade of 
briar and hawthorn hid all but the lichened roof of 
the ancient dwelling-house; and strangers going by 
on their way to the village saw nothing of the 
crowding hives, and marked little else than the 
usual busy murmur of insect-life common to any 
sunny day in June. 

But when they came out of the green tunnel of 
hedgerows into the open fields beyond, chance way- 
farers always stopped and looked about them 
wonderingly, at length fixing a puzzled glance 
intently on the blue sky itself. At this corner, and 
nowhere else, seemingly, the air was full of a deep, 
reverberant music. A steady torrent of rich sound 
streamed by overhead; and yet, to the untutored 
observer, the most diligent scrutiny failed to reveal 
its origin. A few gnats harped in the sunbeams. 
Now and again a bumble-bee struck a deep chord or 
two in the wayside herbage underfoot. But this 
clear, strong voice from the skies was altogether 
unexplainable. To human sight, at least, the blue 



air and sunshine held nothing to account for it; and 
the stranger unversed in honey-bee lore, after taking 
his fill of this melodious mystery, generally ended 
by giving up the problem as insoluble, and passing 
on to his business or pleasure in the little green- 
garlanded hamlet under the hill. 

That the bees of a fairly large apiary should 
produce a considerable volume of sound in their 
passage to and fro between the hives and the honey- 
pastures is in no way remarkable. In the heyday of 
the year — the brief six weeks' honey-flow of the 
English summer — probably each normal colony of 
bees would send out an army of foragers at least 
twenty thousand strong. What really seems matter 
for wonder is the way in which bees appear to 
concentrate their movements to certain well-defined 
tracks in the atmosphere. They do not distribute 
themselves broadcast over the intervening space, 
as they might be expected to do, but wonderfully 
keep to certain definite restricted thoroughfares, 
no matter how near or how remote their foraging 
grounds may be. 

And this particular gap in the chain of hedgerows 
really marked the great main highway for the bees 
between the hives and the clover-fields silvering the 
whole wide stretch of hill and dale beyond. Every 
moment had its winged thousands going and 
returning. At any time, if a fine net could have 
been cast suddenly a few fathoms upward, it would 
have fallen to earth black and heavy with bees; but 
the singing multitude went by at so fast and furious 
a pace that, to the keenest sight, not one of the 
eager crew was visible. Only the sound of their 
going was plain to all; a mighty tenor note abroad 


in the sunshine, a thronging sustained melody that 
never ceased all through the heat and burthen of 
the glittering summer's day. 

When Shelley heard the " yellow bees in the ivy- 
bloom," and he of Avonside wrote of " singing 
masons building roofs of gold," probably neither 
thought of the humming of the hive-bee as anything 
more than an ingredient in the general delightful 
country chorus, as distinct from the less-inspiring 
labour-note of busy humanity in a town. With the 
single exception, perhaps, of Wordsworth, poets, 
thinking most of their line, commonly miss the 
subtler phases of wild life, such as the continually 
changing emphasis and capricious variation in bird 
song, the real sound made by growth, or the 
unceasing movement of things conventionally held 
to be inert. And in the same way the endlessly 
varied song of the bees has been epitomised by 
imaginative writers generally into a sound, pleasantly 
arcadian enough, but little more suggestive of life 
and meaning than the hum of telegraph wires in a 

Yet there are few sounds in nature more bewilder- 
ingly complex than this. For every season in the 
year the song of the hives has its own distinct 
appropriate quality, and this, again, is constantly 
influenced by the time of day, and even by the 
momentary aspect of the weather. A bee-keeper of 
the old school — and he is sure to be the " character," 
the quaint original of a village — manages his hives 
as much by ear as by sight. The general note of 
each hive reveals to him intuitively its progress and 
condition. He seems to know what to expect on 
almost any day in the year, so that if Rip van Winkle 


had been an apiarist the nearest bee-garden would 
have been as sure a guide to him, in respect of the 
time of year at least, as the sun's declining arc in 
the heaven is to the tired reapers in respect of the 
hour of day. 

Most people — and with these must be included 
even lifelong country-dwellers — are wont to regard 
the humming of the hive-bee as a simple monotone, 
produced entirely by the rapid movement of the 
wings. But this conception halts very far short of 
the actual truth. In reality, the sound made by a 
honey-bee is threefold. It can consist .either of a 
single tone, a combination of two notes, or even a 
grand triple chord, heard principally in moments of 
excitement, such as when a swarming-party is on the 
wing, or in late autumn and early spring, when civil 
war will often break out in an ill-managed apiary. 
The actual buzzing sound is produced by the wings; 
the deeper musical tones by the air alternately 
sucked in and driven out through the spiracles, 
which are breathing-tubes ranged along each side 
of a bee's body; while the shrill, clarinet-like note 
comes from the true voice-apparatus itself. In 
ordinary flight it is the wings and the respiration- 
tubes conjointly which produce the steady volume 
of sound heard as the honey-makers stream over the 
hedgetop towards the distant clover-fields; and this 
is the note also that pervades the bee-garden through 
every sunny hour of the working-day. The rich, 
soft murmur coming from the spiracles is probably 
never heard except when the bee is flying, but both 
the true voice and the whirring wing-melody are 
familiar as separate sounds to every bee-keeper 
who studies his hives. 


When the summer night has shut down warm 
and still over the red dusk of evening, and the last 
airy loiterer is safely home from the fields, a 
curious change comes to the bee-garden. The old 
analogy between a concourse of hives and a human 
city is, at this season, utterly at fault. Silence and 
rest after the day's work may be the portion of the 
larger community, but in the time of the great honey- 
flow there is neither rest nor slumber for the bees. 
A fury of labour possesses them, one and all; and 
darkness does not remit, but merely transposes the 
scene of, their activity. Coming out into the garden 
at this hour for a quiet pipe among the hives — an 
old and favourite habit with most bee-keeping 
veterans — the new spirit abroad is at once manifest. 
The sulky, fragrant darkness is silent, quiet with 
the influence of the starshine overhead; but the very 
earth of the footway seems to vibrate with the 
imprisoned energy of the hives. This is the time 
when the low, rustling roar of wing-music can best 
be heard, and one of the most wonderful phases of 
bee-life studied. The problem of the ventilation of 
human hives is attacked commonly on one main 
principle — unstinted ingress for fresh air and a like 
abundant means of outward passage for the bad. 
But, if the bees are to be credited, modern sanitary- 
scientists are trimming altogether on the wrong 
tack. A colony of bees will allow one aperture, 
and one alone, in the hive, to serve all and every 
purpose. If the enterprising novice in beemanship 
gimlets a row of ventilation-holes in the back of his 
hive — an idea that occurs to most tyros in apicul- 
ture — the bees will infallibly seal them all up again 
before morning. They work on entirely different 


principles, impelled by their especial needs. The 
economy of the hive requires the temperature to be 
absolutely and immediately within the control of the 
bees, and this is only possible when the ventilatory 
system is entirely mechanical. The evaporation of 
moisture from the new-gathered nectar, and the 
hatching of the young brood, necessitate an amount 
of heat much less than that required for wax- 
generating; as soon as the wax-makers begin to 
cluster the temperature of the hive is at once 
increased. But if a current of air were continually 
passing through the hive these necessary heat 
variations would be difficult to manage, even 
supposing them possible at all; so the bees have 
invented their unique system of a single passage- 
way, combined with an ingenious and complicated 
process of fanning, by which the fresh air is sucked 
in at one side of the entrance and the foul air drawn 
out at the other, the atmosphere of the hive being 
thus maintained in a constant state of circulation, 
fast or slow, according to the temperature needed. 

In the hot summer weather these fanning-parties 
are at work continuously, being relieved by others 
at intervals of a few minutes throughout the day. 
But at night, when the whole population of the hive 
is at home, the need for ventilation is greatly 
augmented, and then the open lines of fanners often 
stretch out over the alighting-board six or seven 
ranks deep, making an harmonious uproar that, on 
a still night, will travel incredible distances. 

This tense, forceful labour-song of the bee-garden, 
heard unremittingly throughout the hours of dark- 
ness, is always pleasant, often indescribably soothing 
in its effect. But it is essentially a communal note, 


expressive only of the well or ill being of the hive 
at large. The individuality, even personal idiosyn- 
crasy, which undoubtedly exists among bees, finds 
its utterance mainly through the true voice-organ. 
You cannot stand for long, here, in the quiet of 
the summer night, listening to one particular hive, 
without sooner or later becoming aware of other 
sounds, in addition to the general musical hubbub 
of the fanning army. It is evident that a nervous, 
high-strung spirit pervades the colony, especially 
during the season of the great honey-flow. Their 
common agreement on all main issues does not 
prevent these " virgin daughters of toil " from 
engaging in sundry sharp altercations and mutual 
hustlings in the course of their business; and, at 
times of threatening weather, a tendency towards 
snappishness, and a whimsical perversity charac- 
teristically feminine, seem to make up the prevailing 
tone. It is during these chance forays that the true 
voice of the honey-bee, apart from the sounds made 
by wing and spiracle, can best be differentiated. 



""pHE bee-keepers in English villages to-day are 
all familiar — too familiar at times — with the 
holiday-making stranger at the garden gate inquiring 
for honey. Somehow or other the demand for this 
old natural sweet-food appears to have greatly 
increased of recent years among wandering towns- 
folk in the country. A competent bee-master, 
dealing with a large number of combs, will not 
mingle them indiscriminately, but will unerringly 
assort them, so that he will have perhaps at the end 
of the season almost as many kinds of honey in store 
as there are fields on his countryside. I speak, of 
course, not of the large bee-farmer — who, em- 
ploying of necessity wholesale methods, can aim 
only at a good all-round commercial sample of no 
finely distinctive colour or flavour — but of the con- 
noisseur in bee-craft, the gourmet among the hives, 
who knows that there are as many varieties in 
honey as there are in wine, and would as little dream 
of confusing them. 

Honey lovers who have been eating wax all their 
days will be as hardly dissuaded from the practice 
as he whose custom it may be to consume the paper 



in which his butter is wrapped, or take a proportion 
of the blue sugar-bag with the lumps in his tea. 
Yet the last are no more absurdities than the former, 
except in degree. Pure beeswax has neither savour 
nor nutrient properties, and passes wholly unas- 
similated through the human system. Even the 
bees themselves cannot feed upon it when at dire 
extremes : the whole hive may die of starvation in 
the midst of waxen plenty. Of all creatures, mice, 
and the larvae of two species of moth, alone will 
make away with it; and even in their case it is 
doubtful whether the comb be not destroyed for 
the sake of the odd grains of pollen and the pupa- 
skins it contains. Broadly speaking, unless you can 
trust a dipped finger-tip to reveal to you on the 
moment the qualities of this village-garden honey, 
it is always safer to buy in the comb. But the wax 
should never be eaten. The proper way to deal 
with honeycomb at table is to cut it to the width of 
the knife-blade ; and, laying it upon the plate with the 
cells vertical, press the blade flat upon it, when the 
honey will flow out right and left. In this way, 
if duly carried out, the honey is scientifically separ- 
ated, no more than one per cent remaining in the 
slab of wax. 

The Bee as a Chemist 

It is not strange, because it is so common, to 
find people who have eaten honeycomb regularly 
all their lives, yet are unknowingly ignorant of the 
first rudimentary fact in its nature and composition. 
To know that you do not know is an intelligible 
state, the initial true step towards knowledge; but 
to be full of erroneous information, and that complac- 


ently, is to be ignorant indeed. Of such are the 
old lady who dwelt in the Mile End Road, and 
believed that cocoanuts were monkeys' eggs, and 
the man who will tell you without expectancy of 
contradiction that honey is the food of bees. 

Now this is no essay in cheap paradox, but a 
sober attempt to reinstate in the public mind the 
unsophisticated truth. The natural foods of the 
bee-hive are the nectar and the pollen, the " love 
ferment " of the flowers. On these the bee subsists 
entirely, so long as she can obtain them, and will 
go to her. honey stores only when nature's fresh 
supplies have failed. One speaks by poetic licence, 
or looseness, of bees gathering honey from blos- 
soming plants. The fact is they do nothing of the 
kind, and never did. The sweet juices of clover, 
heather, and the like, differ fundamentally, both in 
appearance and in chemical properties from honey. 
Though the main ingredient in honey is nectar, the 
two are totally different things; and honey, far from 
being the normal food of bees, is only a standby 
for hard times, a sort of emergency ration, put up 
in as little compass and with as great a concen- 
tration as such things can be. 

The story of how honey is made, and why it is 
made at all, forms one of the most interesting items 
in the history of the hive-bee. In a land where 
nectar-yielding plants flourish all the year through, 
if such a spot exist at all, there would be no honey, 
because the necessity for it would not occur. 
Hive-bees in such a land would go all their lives, 
and assuredly never dream of honey-making. But 
wherever there is winter, or a season when the 
supply of nectar and pollen temporarily fails, the 


bee, who does not hibernate in the common sense 
of the term, must devise a means of supporting life 
through the famine period. Many creatures can 
and do accomplish this by merely laying up in 
a comatose condition until such time as their 
natural food is plentiful again, and they may safely 
resume their old activities. But this will not do 
for the doughty honey-bee. A curious aspect of 
her life is the way in which she appears to recognise 
the competitive spirit in all the higher forms of 
earthly existence, and deliberately sets herself in 
the fore-rank of affairs with that principle in view. 
It would be easy for a few hundred worker-bees to 
get together in some warm nook underground, 
with that carefully tended piece of egg-laying 
mechanism, their queen, in their midst; and in a 
semi-dormant condition to pass the dark winter 
months through, gradually rousing their own fires 
of life as the year warmed up again in the spring. 
But such a system would mean that the colony 
would have to start afresh from the bottom of 
the ladder of progress with every year. The hive- 
bee has conceived a better plan, and the basis, the 
essential factor of it all, is this thing of mystery 
which we call honey. 

The True Purpose of the Hive 

The ancient Roman name for a beehive was 
alvus, which, translated into its blunt Anglo-Saxon 
equivalent, means belly. And this gives us in a word 
the whole secret about honey-making. As a matter 
of fact, the hive in summer acts as a digestive 
chamber, wherein the winter aliment of the stock is 


prepared. The bees, during their ordinary work- 
aday life, subsist on the nectar and pollen which 
they are continually bringing into the hive. Much 
pollen is laid by in the cells in its raw condition, 
but pollen is almost exclusively a tissue-former, and 
it is not used by the worker-bees during the winter 
for their own sustenance, but preserved until early 
spring, when it forms the principal component in 
the bee-milk on which the larvae are mainly fed. 
The nectar, however, is necessary at all times to 
support life in the mature bees, and it must therefore 
be stored for use during the long months when 
there are no flowers to secrete it. 

It is here that we get a glimpse into the ways of 
the honey-bee that may well give spur to the most 
wonder-satiated amongst us. If a sample of fresh 
nectar is examined, it will be found to consist of 
about seventy per cent of water, the small remainder 
of its bulk being made up of what is chemically 
known as cane sugar, together with a trace of cer- 
tain essential oils and aromatic principles. It is 
practically nothing but sweetened and flavoured 
water. But ripe honey shows a very different 
composition. The oils and essences are there, with 
some added acids; but of water there is no more 
than seven to ten per cent ; practically the entire bulk 
of good honey consists of sugar, but it is grape 
sugar, with scarce a trace of the cane sugar which 
nectar exclusively contains. To put the thing in 
plainest words — the economic honey-bee, finding 
herself with three or four months to get through 
at the least possible cost in energy and nutriment, 
has scientifically reasoned out the matter, and, among 
other ingenious provisions, has arranged to subject 


her winter food to a process of pre-digestion during 
the summer, so that when she consumes it there 
shall be neither force expended in its assimilation 
nor waste products taken with it, needing to be 
afterwards expelled. Honey, in fact, is the nectar 
digested, and then regurgitated just when it is 
ready to be absorbed into the system. It is almost 
certain that every drop goes through this process 
twice, and possibly three times, in each case by 
different bees; and the heat of the hive still further 
contributes to the object in view by driving off the 
superfluous moisture from the nectar so treated, 
and thus concentrating it into an almost perfect 



CTANDING in the lane without, and looking up 
at the grey forbidding walls of the old abbey, 
you wondered how anything human could exist on 
the other side; but, once past the heavy iron-studded 
gate, your thoughts doubled like hares in the 
opposite direction. 

It seemed good to be a monk, if life could be all 
sunshine, and quietude, and beauty like that. As 
you waited in the shadow of the great stone-flagged 
portico, while your coming was announced, this 
feeling grew deeper with every moment. The 
garden sloped down to the river's edge, winding 
footway, and green lawn, and kitchen-plot all alike 
girdled and barricaded with rich-hued 'autumn 
flowers. Through the mass of crimson fuchsia and 
many-coloured dahlia and hollyhock, bowers of 
pink and white geranium with stems as thick as 
your wrist, ancient apple-trees drooping under their 
burden of scarlet fruit, crowding jungles of roses, 
you could see the bright waters sweeping by, and 
hear their busy sound as they won a way amidst 
H 113 


the rocky boulders strewing the bed of the tortuous 
Devon stream. 

Here and there in the sunny field-of-view visible 
through the arched doorway, black-robed figures 
were quietly at work: some digging; others 
gathering apples in the orchard; one sturdy brother 
was mowing the Abbot's lawn, the bright blade 
coming perilously near his fluttering skirts at every 
stroke; another went by trundling a wheelbarrow 
full of green vegetables for the refectory table. 
There was a distant cackle of poultry, blending oddly 
with the solemn chant that came from the chapel 
hard by. Robins sang everywhere, and starlings 
clucked and whistled in the valerian that topped the 
great encircling wall. But wherever you looked, 
whatever drew away your attention for the 
moment, you were sure to come back to the con- 
sideration of one preponderant yet inexplicable 
thing. A steady, deep note was upon the air. 
Rich and resonant, it seemed to come from all 
directions at once. The dim, grey-vaulted entrance- 
porch was full of it. Looking up into the dusk of 
oaken beams overhead, there it seemed at its 
strangest and loudest. Queerest fact of all, it 
appeared to have some mysterious affinity with the 
sunshine, for when a stray white argosy of cloud 
came drifting over the azure and obscured for a 
minute the glad light, this full, sonorous note died 
suddenly away, rising as swiftly again to its old 
power and volume when the sunbeams glowed back 
once more over the spacious garden, and over the 
riverside willows that shed their gold of dying 
leafage with every breath of the soft south wind. 

It wag not until you stepped outside, and looked 


upward over the face of the old building, that you 
realised what it all meant. From its foundation to 
the highest stone of the ancient bell-turret, the 
whole front of the place was thickly mantled with 
ivy in full flower, and every yellow tuft of blossom 
was besieged with bees. There seemed tens of 
thousands of them, hovering and humming every- 
where; and thousands more arriving with every 
moment out of the blue air, or darting off again 
fully laden, and away to some invisible bourne over 
the ruddy roof of orchard trees. 

Intent on this vociferous wonder, you do not 
catch the footfall on the gravel-path in your rear, 
or see the sombre figure of the Abbot as he comes 
towards you, the sweep of his black frock setting 
all the marigolds nodding behind him, as though 
from a sudden flaw of wind. And now you have 
another pleasurable disillusionment as to monkish 
conditions of being. Trudging along the deep-cut 
Devonshire lanes on your way to the Abbey, 
through the rain of falling autumn leaves, you 
pictured the place to yourself as a kind of sacred 
sink of desolation, inhabited by a crew of sour- 
visaged anchorites, who found only godlessness in 
sunshine, and in cakes-and-ale nothing but assured 
perdition. But here, coming towards you, smiling, 
and with outstretched hand, is the last kind of 
human being you expected to see. Clad from head 
to foot in sober black, with, for ornament, but the 
one plain silver cross swinging at his breast, the 
Abbot shows, unmistakably, for a gentleman of 
cultured and enlightened mien. A fine, swarthy 
face, kind, calm eyes behind gold spectacles, a 
voice like an old violin, and a grip of the hand that 


makes you wince with its abounding- welcome, all 
combine to set you there and then at your ease; 
and talk begins at once on the old, familiar plane 
among bee-keepers — the quick, enthusiastic inter- 
change, each participant as ready a listener as 
learner, common all the world over, wherever 
flowers grow and men love bees. 

The brothers of the old Benedictine monastery 
— so the Abbot tells you, as he leads the way 
towards the hives, through the sun-riddled laby- 
rinth — have kept bees, probably, for more than a 
thousand years. There is no doubt that the original 
abbey building stood there, in the wooded cleft of 
Devon valley, so long ago as the sixth century, nor 
little question that its founder was a bee-man, for 
he was contemporary and friend of the great St 
Modonnoc who himself first taught Irishmen to 
keep bees. 

" Monks, in the very earliest times, were almost 
invariably apiculturists," argues the Abbot. He 
stops in the orchard, the more impressively to quote 
Latin, the glib leaf-shadows playing the while over 
his tonsured head. " Lac et mel; panis, vena 
rudis. Milk and honey, and coarse oaten bread. 
At least we know, from our chronicles, that these 
were the common daily fare of our Order more 
than eight hundred years ago; and honey remains 
a part of our food to this day." 

Thus overawed with the centuries, you begin to 
form a mental picture of the bee-garden you are 
about to visit, voyaging so pleasantly through wind- 
ing path and shady thicket, with the bell-like sound 
of the water growing clearer and clearer at every 
step. With all that hoary tradition of the ages 


behind them, you promise yourself, these monks 
will have clung to their bee-keeping mediaevalism 
as to some sacred, inviolable thing. There will be 
no movable comb-frames, nor American sections, 
nor weird, foreign races of bees. They will never 
have heard even of foul-brood, or napthol-beta, or 
the host of things that bless or curse modern apicul- 
ture at every turn of the way. But, instead, there 
will be a tangled wilderness of late blossom, such 
as only Devonshire can show in November; dome- 
shaped hives of straw, each with its singing com- 
pany about it; perhaps a superannuated brother or 
two quietly making straw hackles to shield the hives 
against coming winter weather; even, perchance, 
the smell of burning brimstone on the air, as the 
last remnant of the honey-harvest is gathered in the 
ancient way, by " taking up " the strongest and 
the weakest colonies of bees. 

And then a wicket-gate in the old wall determines 
the path and your ruminations together. A sudden 
burst of sunshine; the rich medley of sound from 
fourscore hives lifting high above the song of the 
purling stream; and you are out on the broad, green 
river-bank, looking on at a scene very different from 
the one you have expected. 

There are no old-fashioned hives; they are all of 
the latest, most scientific pattern, ranged under the 
shelter of the wall in two wide terraces of close- 
shaven turf, looking southward over the stream. 
There are outhouses of the most approved design, 
where all the business of a modern apiary is going 
on. Here and there you see black-f rocked figures 
at work, dexterously examining the colonies. There 
is the deep, whirring note of honey-extractors; the 


clamour of carpenters' tools; the faint, sickly smell 
from the wax-boilers; all the familiar evidences of 
bee-farming carried on in the most modern, 
twentieth-century way. 

As you look down the long, trim avenue of 
gaily-painted hives your companion has a quiet 
side-glance upon you, obviously noting your 

" What would you? " says he, and his deep voice 
rings like a passing-bell for all your dreams. 
" Everything must move with the times, or must 
inevitably perish. Modernism, rightly understood, 
is God's fairest, most priceless gift to the universe. 
It is a crucible through which all things of true 
metal must pass to lose the accumulated dross of 
the ages, keeping their original pure substance, but 
taking the new shape required of them by latter- 
day needs. It is so with the old, dim windows of 
man's faith; daily the glass is being taken out, 
smelted down, purified, replaced; we can see abroad 
into distances now never before visible. And so it 
must prove even with bee-keeping, which is one of 
the oldest human occupations in the world." 

He waves his hand towards the sunny prospect 
before you. Beyond the river the burning apple- 
woods soar steadily upward; and high above these, 
stretching away to meet the blue sky, lie the Devon 
moorlands, once all rose-red with blossoming 
heathefr, but now, parched and brown, except where 
a grey crag or rock puts forth its jagged head. 

" It is a fine thing, perhaps," says the Abbot, 
thoughtfully swinging his silver cross in the sun- 
beams, " to love old, ignorant customs, old, 
benighted, useless errors, for their picturesqueness 


and beauty alone. But don't you think it is a still 
finer thing to teach poor people how they may win 
from the common hillside plenty of rich, nourishing 
food at almost no cost at all? And that is what 
we are doing here. Modern bee-science, it is true, 
gives us only an ugly utilitarian hive. It sweeps 
away all the bright, iridescent cobwebs in the path 
of bee-keeping, and substitutes hard fact for pretty 
fairy-tale. But the sum of it all is that the poor 
cottager gains, not twenty or thirty pounds at most 
of coarse, unsaleable sweet food from his hives, 
but perhaps hundredweights of pure, choice, 
section-honey, which, sold in the proper market, 
will clothe his children comfortably, and make it 
possible for them to lead decent human lives." 



'"PHERE are three great tokens of the coming of 
spring in the country — the elm-blossom, the 
cry of the young lambs, and the first rich song of 
the awakening bees. 

All three come together about the end of February 
or beginning of March, and break into the winter 
dearth and silence in much the same sudden, 
unpremeditated way. You look at the woodlands, 
cowering under the lash of the shrill north wind, 
and all seems bare and black and lifeless. But 
the wind dies down in a fiery sunset. With the 
darkness comes a warm breath out of the west. On 
the morrow the spring sunshine runs high through 
all the valleys like liquid gold; the elm-tops are 
ablaze with purple; from the lambing-pens far and 
near a new cry lifts into the still, warm air; and 
in the bee-gardens there is the unwonted, old- 
remembered symphony, prophetic of the coming 
summer days. 

The shepherd, the bee-man, the woodlander — these 
three live in the focus of the seasons, and feel their 
changes long before any other class of country folk. 
But the bee-man, if he would prosper, must take 



the sun as his veritable daily guide from year's end 
to year's end. Those whose conception of a bee- 
keeper is mainly of one who looks on from his 
cottage door while his winged thousands work for 
him, and who has but to stretch out his hand once 
a year to gather the hoard he has had no part in 
winning, know little of modern beemanship. This 
would be almost literally true of the old skeppist 
days, when bees were left much to their own devices, 
and thirty pounds of indifferent honey was reckoned 
a good take from a populous hive. But the modern 
movable comb-frame has altered all that. Now 
ninety or a hundred pounds weight of honey per hive 
is expected, with ordinarily good seasons, on a 
well-managed bee-farm; and in exceptional honey- 
flows very strong stocks of bees have been known 
to double and even treble that amount. 

The movable comb-frame has three prime uses. 
The hives can be opened at any time and their 
condition ascertained without having to wait for 
outside indications. Brood-combs, with the young 
bees all ready to hatch out, can be taken from 
strong colonies and given to weak ones, and thus 
the population of all stocks may be equalised. The 
filled honeycombs can be removed, emptied by the 
centrifugal extractor, and the combs returned to the 
hive ready for another charge; and so the most 
onerous and exacting labour of the hive, comb- 
building, is largely obviated. 

The modern beehive has another great advantage 
over the old straw skep, in that its size can be 
regulated according to the needs of each colony. 
-More combs can be added as the stock grows, and 
thus no limit is set to its capacity. With the 


ancient form of hive fifteen or twenty thousand bees 
meant a crowded citadel, and there was nothing 
for it but to relieve the congestion by swarming. 
But the swarming habit has always been the 
principal obstacle to large honey-takes; and the 
problem which the modern bee-keeper has to solve 
is how to prevent his stocks from thus breaking 
themselves up into several hopelessly weak 

It is all a war of wits between the bees and their 
masters. In nature the honey-bee is possessed of 
an inveterate caution. Famine is especially dreaded, 
and the number of mouths to fill in a hive is always 
kept strictly to the limits of the incoming food- 
supply. Thus a natural bee-colony is seldom ready 
for the honey-flow when it begins in early April, 
because it is only then that the raising of the young 
brood is allowed its fullest scope. This, however, 
is of no importance as far as the bees themselves are 
concerned, for a balance of stores of about twenty 
pounds weight at the end of a season will safely 
carry the most populous colony through any ordinary 

But from the bee-master's point of view it means 
practically a lost harvest. All the arts and devices 
of the modern bee-keeper, therefore, are set to 
work to overcome this timid conservatism of the 
hives, and to induce the creation of immense colonies 
of worker-bees as early as possible in the season, so 
that there may be no lack of labourers when the 
harvest is ready. 

These first warm days of March, that bring the 
elm-blossom, and the cry of the lambs, and the old 
sweet music of the bee-gardens together, really 


form the most critical time of all for the apiarist 
who depends on his honey for his bread-and-butter. 
It is the natural beginning of the bee-year, and on 
his skill as a craftsman from now onward all chance 
of a prosperous season will rest. It is true that, 
within the hive, the bees have been awake and stir- 
ring for a long time past. Ever since the " turn of 
the days," just before Christmas, the queen-mother 
has been busy; and now there are young bees, little 
grey fluffy creatures, everywhere in the throng; and 
the area of sealed brood-cells is steadily growing. 
But it is only now that the world out-of-doors be- 
comes of any interest to the bees. 

This is the time when the scientific bee-man must 
get to work. His whole policy is one of benevolent 
fraud. He knows that the population in his hives 
will not be allowed to increase until there is a 
steady, assured income of nectar and pollen. He 
cannot create an early flower-crop, but he does 
almost the same thing. Every hive is supplied with 
a feeding-stage, where cane-sugar syrup, of nearly 
the same consistency as the natural flower-secretion, 
is administered constantly; and he places trays full of 
pea-flour at different stations amongst his hives, as 
a substitute for pollen. There is a special art in the 
administration of this sugar-syrup. One might 
think that if the bees required feeding at all, the 
more they were given the better they would thrive. 
But experience is all against this notion. The 
artificial food is given, not to replenish an exhausted 
larder, but to simulate a natural new supply. This, 
in the ordinary state of things, would begin in about 
a month's time, coming at first scantily, and gradually 
increasing. By syrup-feeding early in March, the 


bee-master sets the clock of the year forward by- 
many weeks. He imitates nature by arranging his 
feeding-stages so that the supply of syrup can be 
limited to the actual day-to-day wants of the colony, 
allowing the bees freer access to the syrup-bottles 
from time to time as their numbers augment. 

If this is adroitly done, the effect on the colony is 
remarkable. The little company of bees whose part 
it is to direct the actions of the queen-mother, seeing 
what is apparently the natural fresh supply of food 
coming in, in daily increasing quantities, at length 
cast their hereditary reserve aside, and allow the 
queen fullest scope for egg-laying. The result is 
that by the time the real honey-flow commences the 
population of each hive is double what it would be if 
it had been left to its own resources, and the honey- 
yield is more than proportionately great. It is well 
know among bee-men that a hive containing, say, 
forty thousand workers will produce very much 
more honey than two hives together numbering 
twenty thousand each. 

There is another vital consideration in this work 
of early stimulation of the hives, which the capable 
bee-master will never neglect. When the natural 
honey-glut is on, the whole hive reeks with the 
odours given off from the evaporating nectar. The 
raw material, as gathered from the flowers, must be 
reduced by the heat of the hive and other agencies 
to about one-quarter of its original bulk before it 
is changed into mature honey. The artificial food 
given to the bees will, of course, have none of this 
scent, and the old honey-stores in the hive are 
hermetically sealed under their waxen cappings. To 
complete the deception which has been so elaborately 


contrived, the bee-master must furnish his . hives 
with a new atmosphere. This he does by slicing off 
the cappings from some of the old store-combs, thus 
letting out their imprisoned fragrance, and filling 
the hive at once with the very essence of the clover- 
fields where the bees worked in the bygone summer 
days. The smell of the honey at this time, combined 
with the regular and increasing supply of syrup, 
acts like a powerful stimulant on the whole stock, and 
the work of brood-raising goes rapidly forward. 

In intensive culture of all kinds there are risks to 
be run peculiar to the artificial state of things 
engendered, and modern bee-breeding is no 
exception to the rule. When once this fictile 
prosperity is installed by the bee-master, no lapse or 
variation in the due amount of food must occur. 
Even a single day's remission of supplies may undo 
all that a month's careful manipulation has brought 
about. English bees understand their native climate 
only too well, and the bitter experience of former 
years has taught them to be prepared for a return 
of hard weather at any moment. Under natural 
conditions, if a few weeks' warmth has induced them 
to raise population, and a sudden return of cold 
ensues, the bees will take very prompt and stern 
measures to meet the threatening calamity of 
starvation. The queen will cease laying at once; all 
unhatched brood will be ruthlessly torn from its 
cradle-cells and destroyed; old, useless bees will be 
expelled from the colony. And this is exactly what 
will happen if the artificial food-supply is allowed to 
fail even for the shortest period. 



T1THERE the bee-garden lay, under its sheltering 
crest of pine-wood, the April sunbeams 
seemed to gather, as water gathers in the lap of 
enclosing hills. Out in the lane the sweet hot wind 
sang in the hedgerows, and the white dust lifted 
under every footfall and went bowling merrily 
away on the breeze. But once among the crowding 
hives, you were launched on a still calm lake of 
sunshine, where the daffodils hardly swayed on their 
slender stems; and the smoke from the bee-master's 
pipe, as he came down the red-tile'd path, hung in 
the air behind him like blue gossamer spread to 
catch the flying bees. 

As usual, the old bee-man had an unexpected 
answer ready to the most obvious question. 

" When will the new honey begin to come in ? "he 
said, repeating my inquiry. " Well, the truth is 
honey never comes into the hives at all; it only 
goes out. That's the old mistake people are always 
falling into. Good bees never gather honey: they 
leave that to the wicked ones. If I had a hive of 
bees that took to honey-gathering, I should have to 



stop them, or end them altogether. It would have 
to be either kill or cure." 

He took a quiet whiff or two, enjoying the effect 
of this seeming paradox, then went on to explain. 

" What the bees gather from the flowers," said 
he, "is no more honey than barley and hops are 
beer. Honey has to be manufactured, first in the 
body of the bee, and then in the comb-cells. It 
must stand to brew in the heat of the hive, just as 
the wort stands in the gyle-tun; and when it is 
ready to be bunged down, before the bee adds the 
last little plate of wax to the cell-capping, she turns 
herself about and, as I believe, injects a drop of the 
poison from her sting — or seems to do so. Then it 
is real honey, but not before. Now, about these bad 
bees, the honey-gatherers " 

He stopped, putting his hand suddenly to his face. 
A bee had unexpectedly fastened her sting into his 
cheek. At the same moment another came at me 
like a spent shot from a gun, and struck home on 
my own face. The old bee-man took a hurried 
survey of his hives. 

" Why," said he, " as luck, or ill-luck, will have 
it, I think I can show you the honey-gatherers at 
work now. There's only one thing that would 
make my bees wild on such a morning as this; and 
we must find out where the trouble is, and stop it." 

He was looking about him in every direction as 
he spoke; and at last, on the farther side of the 
bee-garden, seemed to make out something amiss. 
As we passed between the long rows of bee- 
dwellings every hive was the centre of its own 
thronging busy life. From each there was a steady 
stream of foragers setting outward into the brilliant 


sunshine, and as constant a current homeward, as 
the bees returned heavily weighed down under loads 
of golden pollen from the willows by the neigh- 
bouring riverside. But round the hive, near which 
the bee-master presently came to a halt, there was 
a very different scene enacting. The deep, rich note 
of labour was replaced by an angry hubbub of war. 
The alighting-board of the hive was covered with 
fighting bees; company launched against company 
single combats to the death; writhing masses of 
bees locked together and tumbling furiously to the 
ground in every direction. The soil about the hive 
was already thickly strewn with the dead and dying : 
and the air, for yards round, was filled with the 
piercing note of the fray. It seemed as hopeless 
to attempt to stop the carnage as it was manifestly 
perilous to go near. 

But the bee-master had his own short way with 
this, as with most other difficulties. He took up a 
big watering-can and filled it hastily from the butt 
close by. 

" This hive is a weak stock," he explained, " and 
it is being robbed by one of the stronger ones. 
That is always the danger in spring. We must try 
to drive the robbers home, and only one thing will 
do it. That is, a heavy rainstorm; and as there is 
no chance of getting the real thing, we must make 
one for ourselves." 

He strode into the thick of the flying bees, and 
raising the can above his head, sent a steady 
cascade of water over the whole hive. The effect 
was instantaneous. The fighting ceased at once. 
The marauding bees rose on the wing and streamed 
away homeward. Those belonging to the attacked 


hive scrambled into its friendly shelter, a bedraggled, 
sodden crew. When at length all was quiet, the 
old bee-man fetched an armful of hay and heaped it 
up before the hive, completely covering its entire 

" If the robbers come back," said he, " that will 
stop them going in, while the bees inside can crawl 
to and fro if they wish. But at sunset we must do 
away with the stock altogether by uniting it to 
another colony, and so put temptation out of the 
robbers' way. And now we must go and look for 
the robbers' den." 

He refilled his pipe, and led the way down the 
long thoroughfare of the bee-city, examining every 
hive in turn as he passed. 

" It is trouble of this kind," he said, " that does 
more than anything else to upset the instinct-theory 
of the old-fashioned naturalists, at least as far as 
the honey-bee is concerned. Why should a whole 
houseful of them suddenly break away from their 
old orderly industrious habits, and take to thieving 
and violence? But so it often happens. There is 
character, or the want of it, among bees just as 
there is in the human race. Some are gentle and 
others vicious; some are hard workers early and 
late, and others seem to take things easily, or to 
be subject to unaccountable moods and caprices. 
Then the weather has an extraordinary influence on 
the temper of most hives. On sunny, calm days, 
when the glass is ' set fair,' and the clover in full 
bloom, the bees will take no notice of any inter- 
ference. The hives can be opened and manipulated 
without the slightest fear of a sting. But if the 
glass is falling, or the wind rising and backing, the 


bees will be often as spiteful as cats, and as timid 
as squirrels. And there are times, just before a 
storm, when to touch some hives would mean 
bringing the whole population out upon you like a 
nest of hornets." 

He stopped by one of the hives, and laid his great 
sunburnt hand down flat on the entrance-board. 
The bees took no account of the obstacle, but ran 
to and fro over his fingers with perfect unconcern. 

" And yet," said he, " there are bees that follow 
none of these general rules. Here is a stock which 
it is almost impossible to ruffle. You may turn 
their home inside out, and they will go on working 
just as if nothing had happened. They are famous 
honey-makers, while they keep to it; but, like all 
mild-tempered bees, they are too fond of swarming, 
and have to be put back into the hive two or three 
times before they settle down to the season's 

As he talked, he was looking about him carefully, 
and at last made a short cut towards a hive stand- 
ing a little apart from the rest. The bees of this 
hive were behaving in a very different fashion from 
those we had just inspected. They were running 
about the flight-board in an agitated way, and the 
whole hive gave out a note of deep unrest. The old 
bee-man puffed his " smoker " up into full draught, 
and set to work to open the hive. 

" These are the honey thieves," he said, as he 
pulled off the coverings of the hive and laid bare its 
rumbling, seething interior to the searching sun- 
light, " and when once bees have taken to robbing 
their neighbours there is only one way to cure them. 
You must exterminate the whole brood- In the old 


days, a stock of bees with confirmed bad habits 
would be taken to the sulphur-pit and settled at 
once for good and all. But modern bee-keepers 
have a better and less wasteful way. Now, look 
out for the queen! " 

He was lifting out the comb-frames one by one, 
and subjecting them to a close examination. At 
last, on one of the most crowded frames, he spied 
the huge full-bodied queen, and lifted her off by 
the wings. Then he closed the hive up again as 
expeditiously as possible. 

" Now," said he, as he ground the discredited 
monarch under his heel, " we have stopped the mis- 
chief at the fountain-head. Of course, if we left 
the bees to raise another queen for themselves, she 
would be of the same blood as the first one, and 
her children would inherit the same undesirable 
traits. But to-morrow, when the bees are thoroughly 
sobered and frightened at the loss of their ruler, 
we will give them another full-grown fertile queen 
of the best blood in the apiary. In three weeks' 
time the new population will begin to take over the 
citadel; and in a month or two all the old bees will 
have died off, and with them the last of the robber 



YXT HEN professional breeders of the honey-bee 
have succeeded in producing the much- 
desired non-swarming race, and swarming has 
become a thing of the past, naturalists of the old 
" instinct " school will be able to turn their backs 
on at least one very inconvenient question. 

There is no denying that the breeders are 
theoretically right in their present efforts. The 
swarming-habit in the honey-bee is admittedly the 
main obstacle to large honey-takes; and now that 
two of the principal objects of swarming — the 
multiplication of stocks and renewal of queens — are 
fairly well understood, and can be artificially effected, 
there is no doubt that the universal adoption of a 
non-swarming strain throughout the bee-farms of 
the country, if such a thing were possible, would 
result in a very greatly increased honey-yield, and 
the people would get cheap honey. But at present 
it is not easy to see that any progress whatever in 
this direction has been made. The bees continue to 
swarm, in spite of beautifully adjusted theories; 
and the old attempt to fit the square peg ot instinct 



into the round hole of fact goes on as merrily as 

Students of bee-life, approaching the matter 
unencumbered by ancient postulates, find themselves 
face to face with many surprising things, which 
would seem unexplainable on any other hypothesis 
than that the bees are endowed with reason, and 
that of no mean order. 

Instinct implies invariability, a dead perfection of 
motive, working blindly against all odds of circum- 
stance, and always succeeding in the main. But the 
very essence of reason, humanly speaking, is its 
imperfection and continual deviation both in motive 
and performance. Watching a swarm of bees from 
the moment of its issue from the hive, the first thing 
that strikes the unacademic observer is that most 
of the bees seem to have no notion at all as to what 
the furore is about. They are by no means the 
obedient items of a common inexorable purpose. 
They are more like a crowd of people running in a 
street, all agog with excitement and curiosity, but 
not one of them knowing the cause of the general 
stampede. Sometimes a stock of bees will give 
visible sign of the approach of a swarming-fit for 
several days before the swarm actually issues. 
But, as often as not, no such manifestation is given. 
The hive, at least to the unexpert eye, seems in its 
normal condition right up to the moment when the 
great emigration takes place. And then, as at a 
given signal, the work suddenly stops, and the bees 
pour out of the hive-entrance in a living stream, 
darkening the air for many yards round, the cloud 
of darting bees rising higher and higher, and 
spreading over a greater space with every 


moment. The swarm may take three or four 
minutes to get fairly on the wing; and, from a 
populous hive, may number twenty-five or thirty 
thousand individuals. 

There is seldom any fear of stings at such a 
time, and this extraordinary phase of bee-life may 
usually be studied at close quarters. One of the 
most puzzling things about it is that, however large 
the swarm proves to be, enough workers and drones 
are still left behind in the old hive to carry on the 
work of the stock. When the order for the sally is 
given, and a feverish excitement spreads at once 
throughout the hive, those bees chosen to remain in 
the old dwelling are perfectly unmoved by the 
general mad spirit. Directly the last of the 
trekking-party has gone off, the home-bees set 
diligently and quietly to work as if nothing Had 
happened. With the whole garden alive with 
flashing wings, and resounding with the rich deep 
hubbub of the swarm, the bees forming the remnant 
of the old colony go about their usual business in 
perfect unconcern, lancing straight off into the sun- 
shine towards the clover-fields, or winging busily 
homeward laden with honey and pollen, just as they 
have been doing for weeks past. And if the hive be 
opened at this time, it will show nothing unusual 
except that no queen will be found. There will be 
three or four queen-cells like elongated acorns 
hanging from the edges of the central combs; and 
the first queen to hatch out, and prove herself 
happily mated, will be allowed to destroy all the 
others. For the rest, work seems to be going on 
in a perfectly normal way. The nectar and pollen 
are being stored in the cells; the young grubs are 



being fed; most of the combs are fairly well covered 
with their busy population, consisting principally of 
young bees, although a fair sprinkling of mature 
workers and drones is everywhere visible. In eight 
or ten days the new queen will be laying and the 
colony rapidly regaining its former strength. 

Meanwhile, the swarm is still in the air, every bee 
careering hither and thither with no other apparent 
purpose than that of allowing full vent to the mad 
excitement which has so mysteriously seized upon 
it. This state will often last a considerable time, 
and, in rare cases, will end by the bees trooping 
soberly back to the hive under just as mysterious 
a revulsion of feeling and resuming their old steady 
work. At other times the cloud of bees will suddenly 
rise high into the air and go straight off across 
country, disappearing in a few moments from the 
keenest view. But generally, after a short spell of 
this berserk frolic, the swarm seems gradually to 
unite under common direction. The dark network 
of flying bees overhead shrinks and grows denser. 
At last you make out the beginnings of the cluster — 
a mere handful of bees clinging to a branch in a 
tree or bush. The handful swells at a wonderful 
pace as the bees crowd towards it from all quarters. 
In three or four minutes the whole multitude is 
locked together in a solid pendent mass, and the 
wild song of freedom has died down to a few stray 
intermittent notes. 

This silence, following the shrill, abounding 
turmoil, has an almost uncanny effect. It seems so 
utterly opposed to, and incongruous with, the mad 
state of things that existed before; and it is difficult 
to escape the conclusion that the bees have weakly 


given way to an incontrollable impulse against all 
their principles and inherited traditions of right, and 
that now, hanging thoroughly sobered and shamed 
and disillusioned, homeless and beggared, tfiey 
realise themselves face to face with the unforeseen 
consequences of their thoughtless act. It is just 
the conduct which might be expected of some savage 
human race, pent up for long years in the rigid 
bounds of an alien civilisation, which in one blind 
moment has thrown to the four winds all its irksome 
blessings, only to realise, when the first glowing 
hour of freedom is over, that their long captivity 
has made the old wild life no longer possible in fact. 
Some such period of deep despondency as has come 
to the silent swarm in the hedgerow can be imagined 
as inevitably falling on such a race of men. But if 
the conquerors were to follow the absconding tribe 
into the lean wilderness and bring them home again 
repentant, restoring them to their old shelter and 
plenty once more, probably they would vent their 
satisfaction in a chorus of joyful approval. And it 
is just this which seems to be happening when the 
swarm is shaken down in front of a new, well- 
furnished hive. The first bees that find their way 
into the cool dark interior set up a jubilant hum 
unlike any other sound known in beecraft. At once 
the strain is taken up by all the rest, and the whole 
multitude marches into the new home to a tune 
which the least fanciful must concede is nothing but 
sheer satisfaction melodised. 

There is little in all this which suggests a race of 
creatures bound within the hard and fast laws of an 
implanted instinct, which it is neither in their power 
nor their pleasure to override. It is true that in the 


natural life of the honey-bee this annually recurrent 
impulse of swarming serves several necessary ends; 
but the utilitarian argument, however stretched, 
cannot be made to explain the whole fact. There 
is unmistakably an element of caprice about it — a 
kicking over the traces — which would be natural 
enough in creatures possessed of reason, but totally 
inconceivable from any other point of view. And 
the farther we look into the whole problem the more 
perplexing it seems. If we grant that the issue of a 
swarm, from a hive overcrowded and headed by a 
queen past her prime, is a necessity, why is it that 
the same hive will often swarm a second and even a 
third time until the stock is practically extinguished 
and the original object of swarming wholly defeated ? 
Or if, under the same conditions, a hive prepares 
to swarm and cold windy weather intervenes, 
how is it that frequently all idea of swarming is 
abandoned for the season, although apparently the 
necessity for it continues to exist ? 

Creatures which pursue a certain line of conduct 
under the blind promptings of instinct could hardly 
be credited with intelligence enough to lead them to 
seek another means for the desired end when the 
preordained means has failed. But this is just what 
the honey-bee appears to do in at least one instance. 
If the mother-bee of a colony is getting past her 
work, and she cannot be sent off with a swarm in the 
usual way, the bees will supersede her. They will 
deliberately put her to death, and raise another 
queen to take her place. This State execution of 
the old worn-out queens is one of the most curious 
and pathetic things in or out of bee-life. One probe 
with a sting would suffice in the matter; but the 


honey-bee is a great stickler for the proprieties. 
The royal victim must be allowed to meet her fate 
in a royal way; and she is killed by caresses, tight- 
locked in the joint embrace of the executioners 
until suffocation brings about her death. 



CTUDENTS of the ways of the honey-bee find 
many things to marvel at, but little to excite their 
wonder more than the unique system of ventilation 
established in the hive. 

Under natural conditions it is a moot point 
whether bees concern themselves at all with the ven- 
tilation of their nests. Wild bees usually fix upon 
a site for their dwelling where there is ample space 
for all possible developments; and the ventilation of 
the home — as with most human tenements — is left 
pretty much to chance causes. At least, in the course 
of many years' observation, the writer has never seen 
the fanners at work in the entrance of a natural bee- 

Probably this remarkable fanning system 
originated in a new want felt by the bees, when, in 
remote ages, their domestication began, and they 
found themselves cooped up in impervious hives 
which, in their very earliest form, were possibly 
roughly-plaited baskets, daubed over with clay, or 
earthen pots baked dry in the sun. This form, 
originally adopted by the bee-keeper as a protection 



against honey-thieves of all sorts, as well as against 
the weather, brought about a new order of things 
in bee-life. The free circulation of air which would 
obtain when the bee-colony was established naturally 
in a cleft of a rock or in a hollow tree became no 
longer possible. And so — as they have been proved 
to have done in many modern instances — the bees 
set to work to evolve new methods to meet new 
necessities, and the present ventilation-system 
gradually became an established habit of the 

Watching a hive of bees on any hot summer's 
day, one very curious, not to say startling, fact 
must strike the most superficial observer. If the 
fanning bees were stationed round the flight-hole 
in a merely casual, irregular way, their obvious 
employment would be surprising enough. But it is 
at once seen that each fanner forms part in an 
ingenious and carefully thought-out plan. Out- 
wardly, the fanners are arranged in regular rows, 
one behind the other, all with their heads pointed 
towards the hive, and all working their wings so 
fast that their incessant movement becomes nearly 
invisible. These rows of bees extend sometimes 
for several inches over the alighting-board, and on 
very hot days there may be as many as seven or 
eight ranks. The ventilating army never covers the 
whole available space. It is always at one side or 
the other; or, where the entrance is a wide one, it 
may be divided into two wings, leaving a centre 
space free. The fanning bees, moreover, do not 
keep close together, but stand in open order, so that 
the continual coming and going of the nectar- 
gatherers is in no wise impeded. There is a con- 


stant flow of worker-bees through the ranks in both 
directions; yet the fanning goes on uninterruptedly, 
and, under certain conditions, the current of air 
thus set up may be strong enough to blow out the 
flame of a candle held at the edge of the flight- 

In all study of the ways of the honey-bee, the 
safer plan is to begin with the assumption that a 
reasoning creature is under observation, and then 
to work back to the surer, well-beaten tracks of 
thought concerning the lower creation — that is, if 
the observed facts warrant it. But this question of 
the ventilation of the modern beehive — only one of 
many other problems equally astounding — helps 
the orthodox naturalist of the old school very little 
on his comfortable way. We know that the wild 
bee generally chooses a situation for her nest which 
is neither cramped nor confined, but has in most 
cases ample space available for the future growth of 
the colony. Security from storm or flood seems to 
be the first consideration. The fact that the interior 
of a bee-nest is more or less in darkness appears to 
be mainly accidental. Bees have no particular lik- 
ing for absolute darkness, nor, in fact, is any hive 
perfectly free from light. Experiment will prove 
that a very small aperture is sufficient to admit a 
considerable amount of reflected and diffused light, 
quite enough for the needs of the hive. It may be 
supposed, therefore, that the bees would have no 
objection to building in broad daylight, or even 
sunlight, if, in conjunction with the first necessities 
of shelter, security, and equable temperature, such 
a location were easily obtainable under natural 
conditions. It would only be another instance of 


their unique adaptability to circumstances forced upon 

In the matter of ventilation, however, they seem 
to make a very determined and highly successful 
stand against imposed conditions. Bee-keeping 
cannot be made a profitable occupation unless the 
work of the bees is kept strictly within certain 
sharply-defined limits, and probably the modern 
movable comb hive is the best means to this end. 
That it leaves the necessity of ventilation wholly 
unprovided for is not the fault of the bee-master, 
but of the bees themselves. They refuse point- 
blank to have anything to do with human notions 
of hygiene. Many devices have been tried, in the 
form of vent-shafts and the like, to carry off the 
vitiated air of the hive, but all have failed, because 
the bees insist on stopping up every crack or crevice 
left in walls, roof, or floor. For some inscrutable 
reason they will have only the one opening, which 
must serve for all purposes, and the hive-maker has 
had to learn by hard-won experience that the bees 
are right. 

Perhaps, in any attempt to follow the reasoning 
of the bees in this matter, it is well first of all to 
get rid of the word " fanning " altogether. The 
wing-action of the ventilating bees is more that of 
a screw-propeller than a fan. The air is not beaten 
to and fro, as a fan would beat it, but is driven 
backwards, and thus the ventilating squadron on 
the flight-board really sets up an exhaust-current, 
which draws the contaminated air out of the hive. 
This implies an equally strong current of fresh air 
passing into the hive, and explains why the bees 
work at the side of the entrance only, the central, 


unoccupied space being obviously the course of the 
intake. Thus the bees' system of ventilation can be 
described as a swiftly-flowing loop of air, having 
both extremities outside the hive, much as a rope 
moves over a pulley, and it can be readily under- 
stood that any supplementary inlet or outlet — such 
as the bee-master would instal, if he were permitted 
— would be rather a hindrance to the system than a 
help. Probably the actual main current keeps to 
the walls of the hive throughout, the ventilation 
between the brood-combs being more slowly 
effected. This would fulfil a double purpose. The 
air supplied to the central portion, or brood-nest 
proper, would be thoroughly warmed before it 
reached the young larvae, while the outer and upper 
combs, where the stores of new honey are maturing, 
would lie in the full stream. 

It must be remembered that a constant supply 
of fresh air of the right temperature is as necessary 
for the brewing honey as it is for the bees and 
young brood. The nectar, as gathered from the 
flowers, needs to be deprived of the greater part of 
its moisture before it becomes honey. Thus, in the 
course of the season, many gallons of water must 
pass out of the hive in the form of vapour, and the 
removal of this water constitutes an important part 
of the work of the ventilating army. Here, again, 
the wisdom of the bees in insisting on a mechanical, 
as opposed to an automatic, system of air-renewal, 
becomes evident. If the warm, moisture-laden air 
were left to discharge itself from the hive by its 
own buoyancy, condensation of this moisture would 
take place on the cooler surfaces of the hive-walls, 
and the lower regions of the hive would speedily 


become a quagmire. But by setting up a mechani- 
cally-driven current the air is drawn out before 
condensation can take place, and thus, in one 
operation, forming a veritable triumph in economics, 
the hive interior is rendered both dry and salutary, 
while its temperature is sustained at the necessary 
hatching-point for the young brood. 

A reflection which will occur to most thinking 
minds is, why should the domesticated honey-bee 
be constrained to resort to all these devices, when 
the wild bee seems to lead a happy-go-lucky 
existence, comparatively free, so far as we know, 
from such complicated cares ? The answer to this 
is that the science of apiculture has wrought a 
change in the bees' normal environment which is 
probably without parallel in the whole history of the 
domestication of the lower creatures. In a modern 
hive the honey-bee lives on a vastly elaborated scale, 
and the ancient rules of bee-life are no longer 
applicable. Much the same sort of thing has 
happened as in the case of a village which has 
grown to a city. It is useless to deal with the new 
order of things as a mere question of arithmetic. 
Abnormal growth in a community involves change 
not only in scale but in principle; and it is the same 
with a hive of bees as with a hive of men. 



CTUDENTS of old books on the honey-bee — and 
perhaps there has been more written about bees 
during the last two thousand years than of all other 
creatures put together — do not quite know what 
to make of Moses Rusden, who was Charles the 
Second's bee-master, and wrote his " Further 
Discovery of Bees " in the year 1679. The wonder 
about Rusden is that obviously he knew so much 
that was true about bee-life, and yet seems, of set 
purpose, to have imparted so little. He was a 
shrewdly observant man, of lifelong experience in 
his craft. His system of bee-keeping would not 
have disgraced many an apiculturist of the present 
time, often yielding him a honey harvest averaging 
sixty pounds to the hive, which is a result not 
always achieved even by our foremost apiarian 
scientists. His hives were fitted with glass 
windows, through which he was continually study- 
ing his bees. He must have had endless oppor- 
tunities of proving the fallacy and folly of the ancient 
classic notions as to bee-life. And yet we find him 


gravely upholding almost the entire framework of 
fantastic error, old even in Pliny's time; and 
speaking of the king-bee with his generals, captains, 
and retinue, honey that was a dew divinely sent 
down from heaven, the miraculous propagation of 
bee-kind from the flowers, and all the other curious 
myths and fables handed down from writer to writer 
since the very earliest days. 

But, reading on in the little time-stained, worm- 
eaten book, it is not very difficult to guess at last 
why Rusden adopted this attitude. He was the 
King's bee-master, and therefore a courtier first 
and a naturalist afterwards. In the first flush of the 
Restoration, anyone who had anything to say in 
support of the divine right of kings was certain to 
catch the Royal eye. Rusden admits himself con- 
versant with Butler's " Feminine Monarchie," 
published some fifty years before, in which the 
writer argues that the single great bee in a hive was 
really a female. To a man of Rusden's practical 
experience and deductive quality of mind, this state- 
ment must have lead, and no doubt did lead, to all 
sorts of speculations and discoveries. But with a 
ruler of Charles the Second's temperament, feminine 
monarchies were not to be thought of. Rusden 
saw at once his restrictions and his peculiar oppor- 
tunity, and wrote his book on bees, which is really 
an ingenious attempt to show that the system of a 
self-ruling commonwealth is a violation of nature, 
and that, whether for bees or men, government 
under a king is the divinely ordained state. 

Whether, however, Rusden was deliberately 
insincere, or actually succeeded in blinding himself 


conveniently for his own purposes, it must be 
admitted not only that he argued the case with 
singular adroitness, But that never did facts adapt 
themselves so readily to either conscious or 
unconscious misrepresentation. In the glass- 
windowed hives of the Royal bee-house at Saint 
James's, he was able to show the King a nation of 
creatures .evidently united under a common rule, 
labouring together in harmony and producing works 
little short of miraculous to the mediaeval eye. He 
saw that these creatures were of two sorts, each 
going about its duty after its kind, but that in each 
colony there was one bee, and only one, which 
differed entirely from the rest. To this single large 
bee all the others paid the greatest deference. It 
was cared for and nourished, and attended assidu- 
ously in its progress over the combs. All the 
humanly approved tokens of royalty were manifest 
about it. No wonder the King's bee-master was 
not slow in recognising that, in those troublous 
times, he could do his patron no greater service 
than by pointing out to the superstitious and 
ignorant multitude — still looking askance at the 
restored monarchy — such indisputable evidence in 
nature of Charles's parallel right. 

And perhaps nature has never been at such pains 
to conceal her true processes from the vulgar eye 
as in this case of the honey-bee. If Rusden ever 
suspected that the one large bee in each colony was 
really the mother of all the rest, and had set himself 
to prove it, he would have found the whole array 
of visible facts in opposition to him. If ever a truth 
seemed established beyond all reasonable doubt, it 


was that the ordinary male-and-female principle, 
pertaining throughout the rest of creation, was 
abrogated in the single instance of the honey-bee. 
The ancients explained this anomaly as a special 
gift from the gods, and the bees were supposed to 
discover the germs of bee-life in certain kinds of 
flowers and to bring them home to the cells for 
development. Rusden improved upon this idea by 
assigning to his king-bee the duty of fertilising 
these embryos when they were placed in the cells, 
for he could not otherwise explain a fact of which 
he was perfectly well aware — that the large bee 
travelled the combs unceasingly, thrusting its body 
into each cell in turn. Rusden also held that the 
worker-bees were females, but only — as Freemasons 
would say — in a speculative manner. They neither 
laid eggs nor bore young. Their maternal duties 
consisted only in gathering the essence of bee-life 
from the blossoms and nursing and tending the 
young bees when they emerged from their cradle- 
cells. The drones were a great difficulty to Rusden. 
To admit them to be males — as some held even in 
his day — would have been against the declared 
object of his book, as tending to entrench upon 
royal prerogatives. Luckily, this truth was as easy 
of apparent refutation as all the rest. No one had 
ever detected any traffic of the sexes amongst bees 
either in or out of the hives; nor, indeed, is such 
detection possible. The fact that the queen-bee has 
concourse with the drone only once in her whole 
life, and that their meeting takes place in the upper 
air far out of reach of human observation, is know- 
ledge only of yesterday. In Rusden's time such a 


marvel was never even suspected. As the drones, 
therefore, were never seen to approach the worker 
bees or to notice them in any way, and as also young 
bees were bred in the hives during many months 
when no drones existed at all, Rusden's ingenuity 
was equal to the task of bringing them into line 
with his theory. 

If he had lived a few decades earlier, and it had 
been Cromwell, instead of the heartless, middle-aged 
rake of a sovereign, whom he had to propitiate, no 
doubt Rusden would have asked his public to 
swallow Pliny's whole apiarian philosophy at a 
gulp. Bee-life would then have been held up as a 
foreshadowing of celestial conditions, and the facts 
would have lent themselves to this view equally as 
well. But his task was to represent the economy 
of the hive as a clear proof of divine authority in 
kingship, and it must be conceded that, as far as 
knowledge went in those days, he established his 

His book was published under the aegis of the 
Royal Society, and " by his Majestie's especial 
Command," which was less a testimony of the 
King's love for natural history than of his political 
astuteness. Apart, however, from its peculiar 
mission, the book is interesting as a sidelight on 
the old bee-masters and their ways. Probably it 
represents very fairly the extent of knowledge at 
the time, which had evidently advanced very little 
since the days of Virgil. Rusden taught, with the 
ancients, that honey was a secretion from the stars, 
and that wax was gathered from the flowers, as well 
as the generative matter before mentioned. He had 


one theory which seems to have been essentially his 
own. The little lumps of many-coloured pollen, 
which the worker-bees fetch home so industriously 
in the breeding season, he held to be the actual 
substance of the young bees to come, in an 
elementary state. These, he tells us, were placed 
in the cells, having absorbed the feminine virtues 
from their bearers on the way. The king-bee then 
visited each in turn, vivifying them with his essence, 
after which they had nothing to do but grow into 
perfect bees. He got over the difficulty of the 
varying sexes of the bees bred in a hive by asserting 
that these lumps of animable matter were created 
in the flowers, either female, or neuter — as he 
called the drones — or royal, as the case might be. 
Having denied the drones any part in the production 
of their species, or in furnishing the needs of the 
hive, Rusden was hard put to it to find a use for 
them in a system where it would have been Ikse- 
majeste to suppose anything superfluous or amiss. 
He therefore hits upon an idea which, curiously 
enough, embodies matter still under dispute at the 
present time, although it is being slowly recognised 
as a truth. Rusden says the use of the drones is to 
take the place of the other bees in the hive when 
these are mostly away honey-gathering. Their 
great bodies act as so many warming stoves, 
supplying the necessary heat to the hatching embryos 
and the maturing stores of honey. It is well 
known that drones gather together side by side, 
principally in the remoter parts of the hive, often 
completely covering these outer combs. They 
seldom rouse from their lethargy of repletion to 


take their daily flight until about midday, when most 
of the ingathering work is over, and the hive is 
again fairly populous with worker-bees. Probably, 
therefore, Rusden was quite right in his theory, 
which, hundreds of years after, is only just 
beginning to be accepted as a fact. 



"POPULAR beliefs as to the ways of the honey- 
bee, unlike those relating to many other insects, 
are surprisingly accurate, so far as they go. But, 
dealing with such a complex thing as hive-life, it is 
well-nigh impossible to have understanding on any 
single point without going very much farther than 
the ordinary tabloid-method of knowledge can carry 
us. This is especially true with regard to pollen, 
and the uses to which it is put within the hive. The 
hand-books on bee-keeping usually tell us that pollen 
is employed with honey as food for the young bees 
when in the larval state; but this is so wide a 
generalisation that it amounts to almost positive 
error. As a matter of fact, the pollen in its raw 
condition is given only to the drone-larva, and this 
only towards the end of its life as a grub. For the 
first three days of the drone-larva's existence, and 
in the case of the young worker-bee for the whole 
five days of the larval period, the pollen is 
administered by the nurse-bees in a pre-digested 
state. After partial assimilation, both the pollen 
and the nectar are regurgitated by these nurse-bees, 



and form together a pearly-white fluid — veritable bee- 
milk — on which the young grubs thrive in an extra- 
ordinary way. 

There are few things more fascinating than to 
watch a hive of bees at work on a fine June morning, 
and to note how the pollen is carried in. With a 
prosperous stock, thousands of bees must pass within 
the space of a few minutes, each bee dragging behind 
her a double load of this substance. Very often, in 
addition to the half-globes of pollen which she carries 
on her thighs, the bee will be smothered in it from 
head to foot, as in gold-dust. If you track her into 
the hive, one curious point will be noted. No 
matter how fast she may go, or what frantic spirit 
of labour may possess the entire colony, the pollen- 
laden bee is never in a hurry to get rid of her load. 
She will waste precious time wandering over the 
crowded combs, continually shaking herself, as 
though showing off her finery to her admiring 
relatives; and it may be some minutes before she 
finally selects a half-filled pollen-cell and proceeds 
to kick off her load. The different kinds of pollen 
are packed into the cells indiscriminately, the bee 
using her head as a ram to press each pellet home. 
When the cell is full it is never sealed over with a 
waxen capping, as in the case of the honey-stores, 
but is left open or covered with a thin film of honey, 
apparently to preserve it from the air. The nurse- 
bees, who are the young workers under a fortnight 
old, help themselves from these pollen-bins. They 
also frequently stop a pollen-bearer as she hurries 
through the crowd, and nibble the pollen from her 

Throughout the season there is hardly an 


imaginable colour or shade of colour which is not 
represented in the pollen carried into a beehive; 
and with the aid of a microsope it is not difficult to 
identify the source of each kind. In May, before 
the great field-crops have come into bloom, the 
pollen is almost entirely gathered from wild flowers, 
and consists of various rich shades of yellow and 
brown. By far the heaviest burdens at this time 
are obtained from the dandelion. The pollen from 
this flower is a peculiarly bright orange, and is 
easily recognised under a strong glass by its grains, 
which are in the form of regular dodecahedrons, 
thickly covered all over with short spikes. 

It is well known that the honey-bee confines 
herself during each journey to one species of flower, 
and this is proved by the microscope. It is not 
easy to intercept a homing bee laden with pollen. 
On alighting before the hive she runs in so quickly 
that the keenest eye and deftest hand are necessary 
to effect her capture. But with the aid of a 
miniature butterfly-net and a little practice it can 
generally be done; and then the pellet of pollen will 
be found to consist almost invariably of one kind of 
grain. But it is not always so. The honey-bee, 
as a reasoning creature, does not and cannot be 
expected to do anything invariably. Among some 
hundreds of these pollen-lumps examined under the 
microscope I have occasionally found grains of 
pollen differing from the bulk. Perhaps there are 
no two species of flower which have pollen-grains 
exactly alike in colour, shape, and size, and in most 
the differences are very striking. In the cases 
mentioned the bulk of the pollen was made up of 
long oval yellow grains divided lengthwise into 


three lobes or gores, which were easily identifiable 
as coming from the figwort. The isolated grains 
were very minute spheres thickly studded with 
blunt spikes — obviously from the daisy. The figwort 
is a famous source of bee-provender in spring 
time, and its pollen can be seen flowing into the 
hives at that time in an almost unbroken stream of 
brilliant chrome-yellow. The brownish-gold masses 
that are also being constantly carried in are from 
the willow; and where the hives are near wood- 
lands the bluebells yield the bees enormous 
quantities of pollen of a dull yellowish white. 

It is interesting that all these various materials, 
so carefully kept asunder when gathered, are for 
the most part inextricably mingled within the hive. 
Obviously the systeni of visiting only one species 
of flower on each foraging journey can have no 
relation to pollen-gathering; nor does it seem to 
apply to the nectar obtained at the same time. It 
cannot be inferred that the contents of each honey- 
cell are brewed from only one source, because it has 
been proved that bees do blend the various nectars 
together when several crops are simultaneously in 
flower. A honey-judge can easily detect the flavours 
of heather and white-clover in the same sample of 
honey by taste alone. But there is another and 
much more conclusive way of deciding the source 
from which a particular sample of honey has been 
obtained. In the purest and most mature honeys 
there are always a few accidental grains of pollen, 
invisible to the eye, yet easily detected under a 
strong glass. And these may be taken as almost 
infallible guides to the species of flowers visited by 
the foraging bees. The only explanation which 


seems possible, therefore, of the honey-bee's care to 
visit only one kind of blossom on each journey 
is that it is done for the sake of the plant itself, 
cross-fertilisation being thus rendered extremely 

When once the bee-man has succumbed to the 
fascination of the microscope, there is very little 
chance that he will ever return to his old panoramic 
view of things. He goes on from wonder to wonder, 
and the horizon of the new world he has entered 
continually broadens with each marvelling step. 
To the old rule-of-thumb bee-keepers pollen was 
mere bee-bread; and the fact that the bees preferred 
one kind to another did not greatly concern them. 
But at a time when the small-holder is beginning 
to feel his feet, and the question of the feasibility of 
planting for bee-forage is certain to arise, it is 
necessary to know why bees gather this important 
part of their diet from particular kinds of flowers, 
while leaving severely alone others which appear 
to be equally attractive. To this question the micro- 
scope supplies a sufficient answer. 

Chemists have determined that nectar is the heat 
and force-producer in the food of the bee, while 
pollen supplies its nitrogenous tissue-building 
qualities. It is evident that bees select certain 
pollens for their superior nutritive powers, just as 
in bread-making we prefer wheat to any other 
species of grain. In the kinds of pollen most in 
favour with bees a good microscope will reveal the 
fact that the pollen-grains are often accompanied 
by a certain amount of true farina, as well as 
essential oils, which must greatly enhance their food- 
value. And in those crops generally neglected by 


bees, such as daisies and buttercups, those accom- 
paniments appear to be absent. The dandelion is 
especially rich in a thick yellow oil, which the bees 
carry away with the pollen; while two plants in 
particular of which the bees are especially fond — 
the crocus and the box — have a large amount of this 
farina mingled with the true pollen. 

It is only within the last century or so that the 
real uses of pollen in the economy of the hive have 
been ascertained. Until comparatively recent times 
the pollen was supposed to be crude wax, which the 
bees refined and purified into the white ductile 
material of the new combs; and a few old-fashioned 
bee-keepers still hold this view, and refuse to believe 
that the wax used in comb-building is entirely a 
secretion from the bee's own body. Pollen, indeed, 
seems to have very little to do with wax, hardly any 
nitrogenous food being consumed while the wax is 
being generated. 



/"\N Warrilow Bee-Farm, where it lay under the 
green lip of the Sussex Downs, there was 
always food for wonder, whether the year was at 
its ebb or its flow. But in July of a good season 
the busy life of the farm reached a culminating 

The ordinary man, in search of excitement, 
distraction, the heady wine served out only to those 
who stand in the fighting-line of the world, would 
hardly seek these things in a little sleepy village sunk 
fathoms deep in English summer greenery. But, 
nevertheless, with the coming of the great honey- 
flow to Warrilow came all these subtle human 
necessities. If you would keep up with the bee- 
master and his men at this stirring time, you must 
be ready for a break-neck gallop from dawn to dusk 
of the working day, and often a working night to 
follow. While the honey-flow endured, muscles and 
nerves were tried to their breaking-point. It was 
a race between the great centrifugal honey-extractor 
and the toiling millions of the hives; and time and 
again, in exceptionally favourable seasons, the bees 



would win; the honey-chambers would clog with 
the interminable sweets, and the dreaded atrophy 
of contentment would seize upon the best of the 
hives, with the result that they would gather no 
more honey. 

A week of hot bright days and warm still nights, 
with here and there a gentle shower to hearten the 
fields of clover and sainfoin; and then the fight 
between the bee-master and his millions would begin 
in earnest. There would be no more quiet pipes, 
strolling and talking among the hives : the Bee- 
Master of Warrilow was a general now, with all 
a great commander's stern absorption in the conduct 
of a difficult campaign. Often, with the first grey 
of the summer's morning, you would hear his 
footsteps on the red-tiled path of the garden below, 
as he hurried off to the bee-farm, and presently the 
bell in the little turret over the extracting-house 
would clang out a reveille to his men, and draw 
them from their beds in the neighbouring village 
to another day of work, perhaps the most trying 
work by which men win their bread. 

It is nothing in the ordinary way to lift a super- 
chamber weighing twenty pounds or so. But to 
lift it by imperceptible degrees, place an empty rack 
in its place, return the full rack to the hive as an 
upper story, and to do it all so quietly and gently 
that the bees have not realised the onslaught on 
their home until the operation is complete, is quite 
another thing. And a long day of this wary, 
delicate handling of heavy weights, at arm's length, 
under broiling sunshine, is one of the most nerve- 
wearing and back-breaking experiences in the 


One of the mistakes made by the unknowing in 
bee-craft is that the bee-veil is never used among 
professional men. But the truth is that even the 
oldest, most experienced hand is glad enough, at 
times, to fall back behind this, his last line of defence. 
All depends upon the momentary temper of the 
bees. There are times when every hive on the 
farm is as gentle as a flock of sheep, and it is 
possible to take any liberty with them. At other 
times, and apparently under much the same 
conditions, stocks of bees with the steadiest of 
reputations will resent the slightest interference, 
while the mere approach to others may mean a 
furious attack. No true bee-man is afraid of the 
wickedest bees that ever flew, but it is only the 
novice who will disdain necessary precautions. 
Even the Bee-Master of Warrilow was seldom 
seen without a wisp of black net round the crown 
of his ancient hat, ready to be let down at a moment's 
notice if the bees showed any inclination to sting. 

In a long vista of memorable days spent at 
Warrilow, one stands out clear above all the rest. 
It was in July of a famous honey-year. The hay 
had long been carried, and the second crops of 
sainfoin and Dutch clover were making their 
bravest show of blossom in the fields. It was a 
stifling day of naked light and heat, with a fierce 
wind abroad hotter even than the sunshine. The 
deep blue of the sky came right down to the earth- 
line. The farthest hills were hard and bright under 
the universal glare. And on the bee-farm, as I 
came through the gap in the dusty hedgerow, I 
saw that every man had his veil close drawn down. 
The bee-master hailed me from his crowded corner. 


" Y'are just to the nick!" he called, in his 
broadest Sussex. " 'Tis stripping-day wi' us, an' I 
can do wi' a dozen o' ye ! Get on your veil, d'rectly- 
minute, an' wire in t'ot!" 

The fierce hot wind surged through the little city 
of hives, scattering the bees like chaff in all 
directions, and rousing in them a wild-cat fury. 
Overhead the sunny air was full of bees, striving 
out and home; and from every hive there came a 
shrill note, a tremulous, high-pitched roar of work, 
half-baffled,, driven through against all odds and 
hindrances, a note that bore in upon you an 
irresistible sense of fear. I pulled on the bee-veil 
without more ado. 

" Stripping-day " was always the hardest day of 
the year at Warrilow. It meant that some infallible 
sign of the approaching end of the harvest had been 
observed, and that all extractable honey must be 
immediately removed from the hives. A change of 
weather was brewing, as the nearness of the hills 
foretold. There might be weeks of flood and 
tempest coming, when the hives could not be opened. 
Overnight there had been a ringed moon, and the 
morning broke hot and boisterous, with an ominous 
clearness everywhere. By midday the glass was 
tumbling down. The bee-master took one look at 
it, then called all hands together. " Strip ! " he 
said laconically; and all work in extracting-house 
and packing-sheds was abandoned, and every man 
braced himself to the job. 

The hives were arranged in long double rows, 
back to back, with a footway between wide enough 
to allow the passage of the honey barrow. This 
was not unlike a baker's hand-cart, and contained 



empty combs, which were to be exchanged for the 
full combs from the hives. I found myself sharing 
a row with the bee-master, and already infused with 
the glowing, static energy for which he was re- 
nowned. The process of stripping the hives varied 
little with each colony, but the bees themselves 
furnished variety enough and to spare. In working 
for comb-honey, the racks or sections are tiered up 
one above the other until as many as five stories 
may be built over a good stock. But where the 
honey is to be extracted from the comb another 
system is followed. There is then only one super- 
chamber, holding ten frames side by side, and these 
frames are removed separately as fast as the bees 
fill and seal them, their place being taken by the 
empty combs extracted the day before. 

The whole art of this work consists in disturbing 
the bees as little as possible. At ordinary times 
the roof of the hive is removed, the " quilts " which 
cover the comb-frames are then very gently peeled 
away, and the frames with their adhering bees are 
placed side by side in the clearing-box. The honey- 
chamber is then furnished with empty combs, and 
the coverings and roof replaced. On nine days out 
of ten this can be done without a veil or any 
subduing contrivance; and the bees which were 
shut up with the honey in the clearing-box will 
soon come out through the traps in the lid and fly 
back to their hives. But when time presses, and 
several hundred hives must be gone through in a 
few hours, a different system is adopted. Speed is 
now a main desideratum in the work, and on 
stripping-day at Warrilow resort is made to a 
contrivance seldom seen there at other times. This 


is simply a square of cloth saturated with weak 
carbolic acid, the most detested, loathsome thing 
in bee-comity. Directly the comb-frames are laid 
bare these cloths are drawn over them, and in a 
few moments every bee has crowded down terror- 
stricken into the lower regions of the hive, leaving 
the honey-chamber free for instant and swift 



TF you go to the bee-garden early of a fine 
summer's morning you will be struck by the 
singular quiet of the place. All the woods and 
hedgerows are ringing with busy life. The rooks 
are cawing homeward with already hours of 
strenuous work behind them. The cattle in the 
meadows are well through their first cud. But as 
yet the bee-city is as still as the sleeping village 
around it. Now and again a bee drops down from 
the sky on a deserted hive-threshold with sleepy 
hum, and runs past the guards at the gate. But 
these are bees that have wandered too far afield 
overnight, tempted by the sunny warmth of the 
evening. The dusk has caught them, and oblit- 
erated their flying-marks. They have perforce 
camped out under some broad leaf, to be wakened 
by the earliest light of morning and hurry home 
with their belated loads. 

The sun is well up over the hillbrow before the 
visible life of the bee-garden begins to rouse in 
earnest. The water-seekers are the first to appear, 



Every hive has its traditional dipping-place, 
generally the oozy margin of some neighbouring 
pond, where the house-martins have been wheeling 
and crying since the first grey of dawn. Now the 
bees' clear undertone begins to mingle with the 
chippering chorus. In a little while there is a thin 
straight line of humming music stretched between 
the hives and the pond : it could not be straighter 
if a surveyor had made it with his level. Again a 
little while, and this long searchlight of melody 
thrown out by the bee-garden veers to the north. 
You may track it straight over copse and meadow, 
seeing not a bee overhead, but guided unerringly 
by the arrow-flight of music, until, on the far hill- 
side, it is lost in a perfect roar of sound. Here the 
white-clover is in almost full blossom again : in 
southern England at least it is always the second 
crop of clover that yields the most plentiful harvest 
to the hives. 

It must be a disturbing thing to those kinder- 
garten moralists who hold the bee up to youth for 
an example of industry and prudence to learn that 
she is by no means an early riser; though, at this 
time of year, she is undoubtedly both wealthy and 
wise. For it is her very wisdom that now makes 
her a lie-abed. When the iron is hot, she will not 
be slow in striking. But it is nectar, not dewdrops, 
from which she makes her honey. Very wisely 
she waits until the sun has drunk up the dew from 
the clover-bells, and then she hurries forth to 
garner their undiluted sweets. Even then, perhaps, 
three-fourths of her burden will be carried uselessly. 
In the brewing-vats of the hive the nectar must 
stand and steam until three parts of its original 


bulk has evaporated, and its sugar has been inverted 
into grape-sugar. Then it is honey, but not before. 
When we see the fanning-army at work by the 
entrance of a hive, it is not alone an undoubted 
passion for pure air that moves the bees to such 
ingenious activity. In the height of the honey 
season many pints of vaporised liquid must be given 
off by the maturing stores in the course of a day 
and night, and all this water must be got rid of. 
Herein is shown the wisdom of the bee-master who 
makes the walls of his hives of a material that is a 
bad conductor of heat. It is a first necessity of 
health to the bees that the moisture in the air, which 
they are incessantly fanning out at this time, should 
not condense until it is safely wafted from the 
hive. A cold-walled hive can easily become a 

The bee-garden is quiet now in the sweet virgin 
light of the summer's morning; but the thought of 
it as containing so many houses of sleep, true of 
the village with its thatched human dwellings, 
could not well be farther from the truth in regard 
to the village of hives. There is little sleep in a 
bee-hive in summer. Of any common period of 
rest, of any quiet night when all but the sentinels 
at the gate are slumbering, of any general time of 
relaxation, there is absolutely none. Each in- 
dividual bee — forager or nurse, comb-builder or 
storekeeper — works until she can work no more, and 
then stops by the way, or crawls into the nearest 
empty cell for a brief siesta. But the life of the 
hive itself never halts, never wavers in summer- 
time, night or day. Go to it morning, noon, or 
night in the hot July season, and you will always 


find it driving onward unremittingly. The crowd is 
surging to and fro. There is ever the busy deep 
labour-note. Its people are building, brewing, 
wax-making, scavenging, wet-nursing, being born 
and dying : it is all going on without pause or break 
inside those four reverberating walls, while you 
stand without in the dew-soaked grass and level 
sunbeams wondering how it is that all the world 
can be at full flood-tide of merry life and music 
while these mysterious hive people give scarce a 

It is at night chiefly that the combs are built. 
The wax, that is a secretion from the bees' own 
bodies, will generate only under great heat, and 
the temperature of the hive is naturally greatest 
when all the family is at home. In the night also 
such works as transferring a large mass of honey 
from one comb to another are undertaken. It is 
curious to note that at night time the drones get 
together in the remotest parts of the hive, apparently 
to keep up the heat in these distant quarters, which 
are away from the main cluster of worker-bees. 
There is hardly another thing in creation, perhaps, 
with a worse name than the drone-bee. But like 
all bad things he is not so bad as he is represented. 
Apart from his main and obvious use, the drone 
fulfils at least one very important office. His habit 
is not to leave his snug corner until close upon 
midday. Thus, when every able-bodied worker 
bee is out foraging, the temperature of the 
hive is sustained by the presence of the drones, 
and the young bee-brood is in no danger of 

Though the supreme direction of all affairs in a 


bee-hive falls to the lot of the worker-bees, the 
queen-mother is second to none in industry. At this 
time of year she goes about her task with a dogged 
patience and assiduity pathetic to witness. She may 
have to supply from two thousand to three thousand 
brood-cells with eggs in the course of a single day, 
and she is for ever wandering through the crowded 
corridors of the hive looking for empty cradles. 
The old bee-masters believed that the queen was 
always accompanied in these unending promenades 
by exactly a dozen bees, whom they called the 
Twelve Apostles. It is true that whenever the 
queen stops in her march she is immediately 
surrounded by a number of bees, who form them- 
selves into a ring, keeping their heads ceremoniously 
towards her. But close observation reveals the 
fact that the queen-bee is never followed about by a 
permanent retinue. When she moves to go on, the 
ring breaks and disperses before her; but the bees 
who gather round her on her next halt are those who 
happen to occupy the space of comb she has then 

The truth seems to be that she is passed from 
" hand to hand " over the combs of the brood-nest, 
and is stopped wherever a cell requires replenishing. 
Each bee that she encounters on her path turns 
front and touches her gently with her antennae. 
The queen constantly returns these salutes as she 
moves, and it looks exactly as if she were going the 
rounds of her domain and collecting information. 
Often she is stopped by half a dozen bees in a solid 
phalanx, and carefully headed off in a new direction. 
She looks into every cell as she goes, and when she 
has lowered her body into a cell, the Apostles 


instantly gather about her, with strokings and 
caresses. But their number is seldom twelve. It 
varies according to the bulk and length of the 
queen herself, and is more often sixteen than a 



TX the hedgerow that surrounds the bee-garden 
the wrens and robins have been singing all the 
morning long. Still a few pale sulphur buds remain 
on the evening-primroses. The balsams make a 
glowing patch of majenta by the garden gate. 
Over the door porch of the old thatched cottage 
purple clematis climbs bravely; and the nasturtiums 
still flaunt their scarlet and gold in the sunny angle 
of the wall. But, for all the colour and the music, 
the hot sun, and the serene blue air overhead, you 
can never forget that it is October. If the towering 
elm-trees by the lane-side showed no fretting of 
amber in their greenery, nor the beeches sent down 
their steady rain of russet, there would still be one 
indubitable mark of the season — the voice of the 
hives themselves. 

Rich and wavering and low in the sweet autumn 
sunlight, it comes over to you now with the very 
spirit of rest in every halting tone. There is work, 
of a kind, doing in the bee-garden. A steady tide 
of bees is stemming out from and home to every 
hive. But there is none of the press and busy 



clamour of bygone summer days. It is only a 
make-believe of duty. Each bee, as she swings up 
into the sunshine, hovers a while before setting 
easy sail for the ivy in the lane; and, on returning, 
she may bask for whole minutes together on the 
hot hive-roof. There is no sort of hurry; little 
as there may be to do abroad, there is less at 

But to one section of the bee-community, these 
slack October hours bring no cessation of toil. The 
guards at the gate must redouble their vigilance. 
Cut off from most of their natural supplies, the yellow 
pirates — the wasps — are continually prowling about 
the entrance; and, in these lean times, will dare all 
dangers for a fill of honey. Incessant fierce skir- 
mishes take place on the alighting-board. The 
guards hurl themselves at each adventuress in turn. 
The wasp, calculating coward that she is, invariably 
declines battle, and makes off; but only to return a 
little later, hoping for the unwary moment that is 
sure to come. While the whole strength of the 
picket is engaged with other would-be pilferers, she 
slips round the scuffling crew, and plunges into the 
fragrant gloom of the hive. 

The variation in temperament among the mem- 
bers of a bee-colony is never better illustrated than 
by the way in which these marauders are received 
and dealt with. The wasp never tries to pick a way 
to the honey-stores through the close packed ranks 
of the bees. She keeps to the sides of the hive, and 
works her way up by a series of quick darts when- 
ever a path opens before her. Evidently her plan 
is to avoid contact with the home-keeping bees, 
which, at this time of year, have little more to do 


than loiter over the combs, or tuck themselves away 
in the empty brood-cells by the hour together. But 
in her desultory advance, she often cannons against 
single bees; and then she may be either mildly 
interrogated, fiercely challenged, or may be allowed 
to pass with a friendly stroke of the antennae, as 
though she were an orthodox member of the hive. 
Again, you may see her recognised for a stranger 
by three or four workers simultaneously. She will 
be surrounded and closely questioned. The bees 
draw back and confer among themselves in obvious 
doubt. The wasp knows better than to await the 
result of their deliberations; by the time they look 
for her again, she is gone. 

She carries her life in her hand, and well she 
knows it. The farther she goes, the more suspicious 
and menacing the bees become. Now she has 
wild little scuffles here and there with the boldest of 
them, but her superior adroitness and pace save her 
at every turn. It is about an even wager that she 
will reach the brimming honey-cells, load herself up 
to the chin, and escape home to her paper-stronghold 
with her spoils. 

As often as not, however, these hive-robbing 
wasps pay the last great price for their temerity. 
Those who study bee-life closely and unremittingly, 
year after year, find it difficult to escape the con- 
clusion that there are certain bees in the crowd who 
are mentally and physically in advance of their 
sisters. The notion of the old bee-keepers — that 
there were generals and captains as well as rank- 
and-file in the hive — seems, in fact, to be not 
entirely without latter-day confirmation. And it is 
just the chance of falling in with one of these bees 


that constitutes, for the wasp, the main risk when 
robbing the hives. 

If this happens, there is no longer any doubt of 
the turn affairs are to take. At an unlucky moment 
the wasp brushes against one of these hive-constables 
and instead of indifference, or, at most, a spiteful 
tweak of the leg or wing in passing, she finds 
herself suddenly at deadly grips. The bee's attack 
is as swift as it is furious. Seizing the yellow 
honey-thief with all six legs, she hacks away at her 
with her jaws, at the same time curving her body 
inwards with her cruel sting bared to the hilt. 
Even now, although more than equal to one bee at 
any time, the policy of the wasp is to refuse the fight, 
and to run. Her long legs give her a better reach. 
She forces her adversary away, disengages, and 
charges off towards the dim light of the entrance. 

In all that follows, this is the beacon that guides 
her. If she could get a clear course, her greater 
speed would soon out-distance all pursuit. But the 
sudden clash of arms in the quiet of the hive has 
an extraordinary effect on the sluggish colony. The 
alarm spreads on every side. Wherever the wasp 
runs now she is met with snapping jaws and 
detaining embraces. As she rushes madly down the 
comb, she is continually pulled up in full flight by 
bees hanging on to her legs, her wings, her black 
waving antennae. A dozen times she shakes them 
all off, and speeds on, the spot of light and safety 
in the distance ever growing brighter and larger. 
But she seldom escapes with her life if affairs have 
reached this pass. The way now is alive with 
enemies. She is stopped and headed off in all 
directions. Trying this way and that for a loophole, 


she finally gives it up and turns on her tracks, 
bewildered and panic-stricken, only to rush 
straight into the midst of more foes. 

The end is always the same. Another of the 
stalwarts spies her, and in a moment the two are 
locked in berserk conflict. Together they drop 
down between the combs and thud to the bottom of 
the hive. Here it is hard to tell what happens. 
The fight is so fierce and sharp, and the two whirl 
round and tumble over and over together so wildly 
that you can make out little else than a spinning 
blur of brown and yellow. A great bright drop of 
honey flies off : in her extremity the wasp has dis- 
gorged her spoils. Perhaps for an instant the 
warriors may get wedged up in a corner, and then 
you may see that they are not lunging at random 
with their stilettos, but each is trying for a side- 
thrust on the body; these mail-clad creatures are 
vulnerable to each other only at one point — the 
spiracles, or breathing-holes. Often the wasp deals 
the first fatal blow, and the bee drops off mortally 
hurt. She may even dispose of three or four of her 
assailants thus in quick succession. But each time 
another bee closes with her at once. For the wasp 
there can only be one end to it. Sooner or later 
she gets the finishing stroke. 

And then there follows a grim little comedy. The 
bee, torn and ragged as she is from the incessant 
gnashing of those razor-edged yellow jaws, never- 
theless pauses not a moment. She grips her dying- 
adversary by the base of the wing, and struggles^ off 
with her towards the entrance of the hive. It is a 
hard job, but she succeeds at last. Alternately 
pushing her burden before her, or dragging it 


behind, at length she wins out into the open, and, 
with a final desperate effort, tumbles the wasp over 
the edge of the footboard down into the grass 
below. Yet this is not enough. The victory must 
be celebrated in the old warrior fashion. Rent and 
bleeding and exhausted as she is, she finds she can 
still fly. And up into the mellow sunbeams of the 
October morning she sweeps, giddily and uncer- 
tainly, piercing the air with her shrill song of 
triumph. Through the murmurous quiet of the 
bee-garden, it rings out like a cry in the night. 



TT is well-nigh two months now since the hives 
were packed down for the winter, and the 
bees are flying as thick as on many a summer's 

Yet no one could mistake their flight for the 
summer flight. It is not the straight-away eager 
rush up into the blue vault of the sunny morning- 
high away over hedgerow and village roof-top 
towards the clover-fields, whitening the far-off 
hillside with their tens of thousands of honey- 
brimming bells. It is rather the vagrant, purpose- 
less hanging-about of an habitually busy people 
forced to make holiday. Through it all there runs 
the pathetic interest in trifles, half-hearted and 
wholly artificial, that you see among the lolling 
crowd of men when a great strike is on — the 
thoughtful kicking at odd pebbles; stride-measuring 
on the flag-stones; little vortices of excitement got 
up over minute incidents that would otherwise pass 
unnoticed; the earnest flagellation of memory over 
past happenings more trivial still. 

Thus the bees idle about and wander, on this 

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still November morning, doing just the things you 
would never expect a bee to do. The greater 
number of them merely take long desultory reaches 
a-wing through the sunshine, going off in one 
objectless direction, turning about at the end of a 
few yards with just as little apparent reason, coming 
back to the hive at length on no more obvious 
errand than that, where there is nothing to do, 
doing it in another place bears at least the semblance 
of achievement. 

But many of them succeed in conjuring up, an 
almost ludicrous assumption of business. One 
comes driving out of the hive-entrance at a great 
pace, designedly, as you would think, going out of 
her way to bustle the few bees lounging there, as 
if the entrance-board were still thronged with the 
streaming crowd of summer days foregone. She 
stops an instant to rub her eyes clear of the hive- 
darkness; tries her wings a little to make sure of 
their powers for a heavy load; then, with a deep 
note like the twang of a guitar-string, launches out 
into the sun-steeped air. But it is all a vain pretence, 
and well she knows it. Watch her as she flies, and 
you will see her busy ding-dong pace slacken a dozen 
yards away. She fetches a turn or two above the 
leafless apple-branches of the garden, with the rest 
of the chanting, workless crew. She may presently 
start off again at a livelier speed than ever, as 
though vexed at being allured, even for a moment, 
from the duty that calls her away to the mist-clad 
hill. But it always ends in the same fashion. A 
little later she is fluttering down on the threshold 
of the silent hive, and running busily in, keeping up 
the transparent fiction, you see, to the last. 


An Officious Dame 

Many more set themselves to look for sweets 
where they must know there is little likelihood of 
finding any. Scarce one goes near the glowing 
belt of pompons rimming the garden on every side. 
But here is one bee, an ancient dame, with ragged 
wings and shiny thorax, poised outside a cranny in 
the old brick wall, and examining it with serious, 
shrill inquiry. She is obviously making-believe, to 
while away the time, that it is a choice blossom full 
of nectar. She knows it is nothing of the kind; 
but that will neither check her ardour nor expedite 
the piece of play-acting. She spins it out to the 
utmost, and leaves the one dusty crevice at last only 
to go through the same performance at the next. 

I often wonder wherein lies the fascination to a 
hive-bee of an open window or door. Sitting here 
ledgering in the little office of the bee-farm — where 
no honey, nor the smell of honey, is ever allowed to 
come — sooner or later, in the quiet of the golden 
morning, the familiar voice peals out. It is 
startling at first, unless you are well used to it — 
this sudden high-pitched clamour breaking the 
silence about you; and the oldest bee-man must lay 
down pen or rule, and look up from his work to 
scan the intruder. 

She has darted in at the door, and has stopped in 
mid-air a foot or two within the room. The sound 
she makes is very different from that of a bee in 
ordinary flight. You cannot mistake its meaning; 
it is one long-drawn-out, musical note of exclamation, 
an intense,, reiterated wonder at all about her — the 


subdued light, the walls covered with book-shelves, 
the littered table, and the vast wingless, drab- 
coloured creature sitting in the midst of it all, like a 
funnel-spider in his snare. Bees entering a room in 
this way seldom stop more than a second or two, 
and, more rarely still, alight. As a rule, they are 
gone the next moment as swiftly as they came, 
leaving the impression that their quick retreat was 
due to a sudden accession of fear; just as children, 
venturing into some dark unwonted place, at first 
boldly enough, will suddenly turn tail and flee, with 
terror hard upon their heels. 

But what should bring bees into such unlikely 
situations during these warm bright breaks in the 
wintry weather, when they seldom or never venture 
out of the range of hives and fields in the season of 
plenty? It would be curious to know whether 
people who have never kept bees, nor handled hives, 
are habitually pried upon in this way; or whether 
it is only among bee-men the thing occurs. Natur- 
alists are commonly agreed that bees possess an 
extraordinary sense of smell; indeed, the fact is 
patent to all who know anything of hive-life. Now, 
years of stinging render the bee-master immune to 
the ordinary results of a prod from a bee's acid- 
charged stiletto. There is only a sharp prick, a 
little irritation at the moment, but seldom any after- 
effects of swelling or inflammation, local or general. 
But all this injection of formic acid under the skin 
year after year might very well have a cumulative 
effect, so that the much-stung bee-man would 
eventually acquire in his own person the permanent 
odour of the hive. And this, scented afar off, may 
well be the attraction that brings these roving 


scrutineers to places having, in themselves, no sort 
of interest to the winged hive-people. 

The Perils of " Immunity " 

The mention of stinging brings back a thought 
that has often occurred to me. Do lovers of honey 
ever quite realise the price that must be paid before 
their favourite sweet is there for them on the break- 
fast-table, filling the room with the mingled perfume 
from a whole countryside? It is easy to talk of 
immunity from the effect of bee-stings ; but the truth 
is that this immunity means, for the bee-master, no 
more than power to go on with his work in spite 
of the stinging. And this power is not a permanent 
one. It is brought about by incessant pricks from 
the living poisoned needle; the ordeal must be 
continuous, or the immunity will soon pass away. 
Over-care in handling bees is good only up to a 
certain point. The bee-man who, by continual 
practice, has brought this gentlest art to its highest 
perfection, so that he can do what he likes with his 
own bees without fear of harm, has, in a sense, 
created for himself a kind of fools' paradise. All 
the time his once dear-bought privilege is slowly 
forsaking him. He is like the Listerist faddist, who 
so destroys all disease germs in his vicinity that 
his natural disease-resisting organisation becomes 
atrophied through want of work. Then, perhaps, 
his precautions are upheld for a season, whereupon 
a particularly virulent microbe happens by; and, 
finding the house empty, swept, and garnished, calls 
in the seven devils with a will. 

Such a contingency is always in wait for the stay- 


at-home, never-stung bee-master of neighbourly 
proclivities. Sooner or later he will be called to 
help some maladroit in bee-craft, whose bees have 
been thoroughly vitiated by years of " monkeying." 
And then the rod will come out of pickle to a 
lively tune. Of course, a little stinging is nothing; 
but there is no doubt that, with anything over a 
dozen stings or so at a time, the most hardened and 
experienced bee-man may easily stand, for a minute 
or two at least, in danger of losing his life. 

So it happened to me once. I had gone to look 
at a neighbour's stocks. The bees were as quiet 
as lambs until I came to the seventh hive ; and then, 
with hardly a note of warning, they set upon me 
like a pack of flying bull-dogs. It is long enough 
ago now, but I can still give a pretty accurate 
account of the symptoms of acute formic-acid 
poisoning. It began with a curious pricking and 
burning over the entire inner surface of the mouth 
and throat. This rapidly spread, until my whole ; 
body seemed on fire, and the target, as it were, for 
millions of red-hot darts. Then first my tongue and 
lips, and every other part of head and neck, in quick 
succession, began to swell. My eyes felt as though 
they were being driven out of my head. My 
breathing machinery seized up, and all but stopped. 
A giddy congestion of brain followed. Finally, 
sight and hearing failed, and then almost conscious- 

I can just remember crawling away, and thrusting 
head and shoulders deep into a thick lilac bush, 
where the bees ceased to molest me. But it was a 
good hour or more before I could hold the smoker 
straight again, and get on with the next stock. 



'"INHERE are few things more mystifying to the 
student of bee-life than the way in which 
winter is passed in the hive. Probably nineteen out 
of every twenty people, who take a merely 
theoretical interest in the subject, entertain no 
doubt on the matter. Bees hibernate, they will tell 
you — pass the winter in a state of torpor, just as 
many other insects, reptiles, and animals have been 
proved to do. And, though the truth forces itself 
upon scientific investigators that there is no such 
thing as hibernation, in the accepted sense of the 
word, among hive-bees, the perplexing part of 
the whole question is that, as far as modern 
observers understand it, the honey-bee ought to 
hibernate, even if, as a matter of fact, she does not. 
For consider what a world of trouble would be 
saved if, at the coming of winter, the worker-bees 
merely got together in a compact cluster in their 
warm nook, with the queen in their midst; and 
thenceforward slept the long cold months away, 
until the hot March sun struck into them with the 
tidings that the willows — first caterers for the year's 



winged myriads — were in golden flower once more; 
and there was nothing to do but rouse, and take 
their fill. It would revolutionise the whole aspect 
of bee-life, and, to all appearances, vastly for the 
better. There would be no more need to labour 
through the summer days, laying up winter stores. 
Life could become for the honey-bee what it is to 
most other insects — merry and leisurely. There 
would be time for dancing in the sunbeams, and 
long siestas under rose-leaves; and it would be 
enough if each little worker took home an 
occasional full honey-sac or two for the babies, 
instead of wearing out nerve and body in all that 
desperate toiling to and fro. 

Yet, for some inscrutable reason, the honey-bee 
elects to keep awake — uselessly awake, it seems — 
throughout the four months or so during which out- 
door work is impossible; and to this apparently 
undesirable, unprofitable end, she sacrifices all that 
makes such a life as hers worth the living from a 
human point of view. 

Restlessness, and the Reason for It 

You can, however, seldom look at wild Nature's 
ways from the human standpoint without danger of 
postulating too much, or, worse still, leaving some 
vital, though invisible thing out of the argument. 
And this latter, on a little farther consideration, 
proves to be what we are now doing. Prolonged 
study of hive-life in winter will reveal one hitherto 
unsuspected fact. At this time, far from settling 
down into a life of sleepy inactivity, the queen-bee 
seems to develop a restlessness and impatience not 


to be observed in her at any other season. It is 
clear that the workers would lie quiet enough, if 
they had only themselves to consider. They collect 
in a dense mass between the central combs of the 
hive, the outer members of the company just keep- 
ing in touch with the nearest honey-cells. These 
cells are broached by the furthermost bees, and the 
food is distributed from tongue to tongue. As the 
nearest store-cells are emptied, the whole con- 
course moves on, the compacted crowd of bees thus 
journeying over the comb at a pace which is steady 
yet inconceivably slow. 

But this policy seems in no way to commend itself 
to the queen. Whenever you look into the hive, 
even on the coldest winter's day, she is generally 
alert and stirring, keeping the worker-bees about 
her in a constant state of wakefulness and care. 
Though she has long since ceased to lay, she is 
always prying about the comb, looking apparently 
for empty cells wherein to lay eggs, after her 
summer habit. Night or day, she seems always in 
this unresting state of mind, and the work of 
getting their queen through the winter season is 
evidently a continual source of worry to the mem- 
bers of the colony. Altogether, the most logical 
inference to be drawn from any prolonged and 
careful investigation of hive-life in winter is that 
the queen-bee herself is the main obstacle to any 
system of hibernation being adopted in the hive. 
This lying-by for the cold weather, however 
desirable and practicable it may be for the great 
army of workers, is obviously dead against the 
natural instincts of the queen. And since, being 
awake, she. must be incessantly watched and fed and 


cared for, it follows that the whole colony must 
wake with her, or at least as many as are necessary 
to keep her nourished and preserved from harm. 

The Queen a Slave to Tradition 

Those, however, who are familiar with the re- 
sourceful nature of the honey-bee might expect her 
to effect an ingenious compromise in these as in all 
other circumstances; and the facts seem to point 
to such a compromise. It is not easy to be sure of 
anything when watching the winter cluster in a 
hive, for the bees lie so close that inspection 
becomes at times almost futile. But one thing at 
least is certain. The brood-combs between which 
the cluster forms are not merely covered by bees. 
Into every cell in the comb some bee has crept, 
head first, and lies there quite motionless. This 
attitude is also common at other times of the year, 
and there is little doubt that the tired worker-bees 
do rest, and probably sleep, thus, whenever an 
empty cell is available. But now almost the entire 
range of brood-cells is filled with resting bees, like 
sailors asleep in the bunks of a forecastle; and it is 
not unreasonable to suppose that each unit in the 
cluster alternately watches with the queen, or takes 
her " watch below " in the comb-cells. 

That there should be in this matter of wintering 
so sharp a divergence between the instincts of the 
queen-mother and her children is in no way sur- 
prising, when we recollect how entirely they differ 
on almost all other points. How this fundamental 
difference has come about in the course of ages of 
bee-life is too long a story for these pages. It has 


been fully dealt with in an earlier volume by the 
same writer — " The Lore of the Honey-Bee " — 
and to this the reader is referred. But the fact 
is pretty generally admitted that, while the little 
worker-bee is a creature specially evolved to suit 
a unique environment, the mother-bee remains 
practically identical with the mother-bees of untold 
ages back. She retains many of the instincts of the 
race as it existed under tropic conditions, when there 
was no alternation of hot and cold seasons; and 
hence her complete inability to understand, and 
consequent rebellion against the needs of modern 

The Future Evolution of the Hive 

Whether the worker-bees will ever teach her to 
conform to the changed conditions is an interesting 
problem. We know how they have "improved" 
life in the hive — how a matriarchal system of 
government has been established there, the duty of 
motherhood relegated to one in the thirty thousand 
or so, and how the males are suffered to live only 
so long as their procreative powers are useful to the 
community. It is little likely that the omnipotent 
worker-bee will stop here. Failing the eventual 
production of a queen-bee who can be put to sleep 
for the winter, they may devise means of getting 
rid of her in the same way as they disburden them- 
selves of the drones. In some future age the 
mother-bee may be ruthlessly slaughtered at the end 
of each season, another queen being raised when 
breeding-time again comes round. Then, no 
doubt, honey-bees would hibernate, as do so many 


other creatures of the wilds; and the necessity for 
all that frantic labour throughout the summer days 
be obviated. 

This is by no means so fantastic a notion as it 
appears. Ingenious as is the worker-bee, there is 
one thing that the mere man-scientist of to-day 
could teach her. At present, her system of queen- 
production is to construct a very large cell, four 
or five times as large as that in which the common 
worker is raised. Into this cell, at an early stage 
in its construction, the old queen is induced to 
deposit an egg; or the workers themselves may 
furnish it with an egg previously laid elsewhere; or 
again — as sometimes happens — the large cell may 
be erected over the site of an ordinary worker-cell 
already containing a fertile ovum. This egg in no 
way differs from that producing the common, under- 
sized, sex-atrophied worker-bee; but by dint of 
super-feeding on a specially rich diet, and unlimited 
space wherein to develop, the young grub eventually 
grows into a queen-bee, with all the queen's extra- 
ordinary attributes. A queen may be, and often 
is, raised by -the workers from a grub instead of an 
egg. The grub is enclosed in, or possibly in some 
cases transferred to, the queen-cell; and, providing 
it is not more than three days old, this grub will 
also become a fully developed queen-bee. 

Hibernation, and no Honey 

But, thus far in the history of bee-life, it has been 
impossible for a hive to re-queen itself unless a 
newly-laid egg, or very young larva, has been 
available for the purpose. Hibernation without a 


queen is, therefore, in the present stage of honey- 
bee wisdom, unattainable, because there would be 
neither egg nor grub to work from in the spring, 
when another queen-mother was needed, and the 
stock must inevitably perish. Here, however, the 
scientific bee-master could give his colonies an 
invaluable hint, though greatly to his own dis 
advantage. In the ordinary heat of the brood- 
chamber an egg takes about three days to hatch, 
but it has been ascertained that a sudden fall in 
temperature will often delay this process. The 
germ of life in all eggs is notoriously hardy; and 
it is conceivable that by a system of cold storage, 
as carefully studied and ingeniously regulated as 
are most other affairs of the hive, the bees might 
succeed in preserving eggs throughout the winter 
in a state of suspended, but not irresuscitable life. 
And if ever the honey-bee, in some future age, 
discovers this possibility, she will infallibly become 
a true hibernating insect, and join the ranks of the 
summer loiterers and merry-makers. But the bee- 
master will get no more honey. 



"BOOKS," said the Bee-Master of Warrilow, 
looking round through grey wreaths of 
tobacco-smoke at his crowded shelves, " books 
seem to tell ye most things ne'ersome-matter; but 
when it comes to books on bees — well, 'tis somehow 
quite another pair o' shoes." 

He stopped to listen to the wind, blowing great 
guns outside in the winter darkness. The little 
cottage seemed to crouch and shudder beneath the 
blast, and the rain drove against the lattice-windows 
with a sobbing, timorous note. The bee-master 
drew the old oak settle nearer to the fire, and sat 
for a moment silently watching the comfortable 

" ' True as print,' " he went on, lapsing more 
and more into the quaint, tangy Sussex dialect, as 
his theme impressed him; " 'twas an old saying o' 
my father's; and right enough, maybe, in his time. 
A' couldn't read, to be sure; so a' might have been 
ower unsceptical. But books was too expensive in 
those days to put many lies into." 

He took down at random from the case on the 


chimney-breast about a dozen modern, paper- 
covered treatises on bee-keeping, and threw them, 
rather contemptuously, on the table. 

"I'm not saying, mind ye," he hastened to add, 
" that there's a word against truth in any one of 
them. They're all true enough, no doubt, for they 
contradict each other at every turn. 'Tis as if one 
man said roses was white; and another said, ' No, 
you're wrong, they're yaller '; and a third said, 
' Y'are both wrong, they're red.' And when folks 
are in dispute in this way, because they agree, and 
not because they differ, there's little hope of ever 
pacifying them. 

I heard tell once of a woman bee-keeper years 
ago, that had a good word about bees. Said she, 
' They never do anything invariably ' ; and she 
warn't far off the truth. She knew her own sex, 
did wise Mrs Tupper. Now, the trouble with the 
book-writers on bees is that they try to make a 
science of something that can never rightly be a 
science at all. They try to add two numbers 
together that they don't know, an' that are allers 
changing, and are surprised if they don't arrive at 
an exact total. There's the bees, and there's the 
weather : together the result will be so many 
pounds of honey. If the English climate went by 
the calendar, and the bees worked according to 
unchangeable rules, you might reckon out your 
honey-take within a spoonful, and bee-keeping 
would be little more than sitting in a summer-house 
and figuring on a slate. But with frosts in June, 
and August weather in February, and your honey- 
makers naught but a tribe of whimsy, sex-thwarted 
wimmin-folk, a nation of everlasting spinsters — how 


can bee-keeping be anything else than a kind of 
walking-tower in a furrin land, when every twist 
an' turn o' the way shows something eur'ous or 
different? " 

He stopped to recharge his pipe from the 
earthen tobacco-jar, shaped like an old straw bee- 
hive, which had yielded solace to many a past 
generation of the Warrilow clan. 

" 'Tis just this matter of sex," he continued, 
" that these book-writing bee-masters seem to leave 
altogether out of their reckoning. And yet it lies 
well to the heart of the whole business. In an 
average prosperous hive there are about thirty 
thousand of these little stunted, quick-witted 
worker-bees, not one of which but could have 
grown into a fully-developed mother-bee, twice the 
size, and laying her thousands of eggs a day, if 
only her early bringings-up had been different. But 
nature has doomed her to be an old maid from her 
very cradle, although she is born with all the 
instincts and capabilities for motherhood that you 
wonder at in a fully grown, prolific queen. And 
yet the bee-masters expect her to accept her fate 
without a murmur; to live and work to-day just as 
she did yesterday and the day before; to tend and 
feed patiently the young bees that she has been 
denied all part in producing; to support a lot of 
lazy drones in luxury and idleness; and generally 
to act like a reasonable, contented, happy creature 
all the way through." 

He took three or four long, contemplative pulls 
at his Broseley clay, then came back to his subject 
and his dialect together. 

■"Tis no wonder," said he, "that the little 


worker-bee gets crotchety time an' again. Wimmin- 
creeturs is all of much the same kidney, whether 
'tis bees or humans. Their natur' is not to look 
ahead, but just to do the. next thing. They sees 
sideways mostly, like a horse with an eye-shade but 
no blinkers. But now and then they ups and looks 
straight afore 'em, and then 'tis trouble brewing 
fer masters o' all kinds, whether in hives or homes 
o' men. Lot's wife, she were a kind o' bee-woman; 
and so were Eve. I'd ha' been glad to ha' knowed 
'em both, bless 'em! The world 'ud be all the 
sweeter fer a few more like they. Harm done 
through being too much of a woman-creetur is 
never all harm in the long run, depend on't." 

With his great sunburnt hand he stirred the 
flimsy, dog-eared pamphlets about thoughtfully, as 
a man will stir leaves with a stick. 

" Now, 'tis just this way with bees," he went on. 
" If you study how to keep 'em busy, with plain, 
right-down necessity hard at their heels, all goes 
well. The bees have no time for anything but 
work. As the supers fill with honey you take them 
off and put empty ones in their place. The queen 
below fills comb after comb with eggs, and you 
make the brood-nest larger and larger. There is 
allers more room everywhere, dropped down from 
the skies, like; no matter how fast the stock 
increases, nor how much the bees bring in. Just 
their plain day's work is enough, and more'n 
enough, for the best of them. And so the summer 
heat goes by; the honey harvest is ended; and the 
bees have had no chance to dwell upon, and grow 
rebellious over, the wise wrong that nature has 
done their sex. In bee-life 'tis always evil that's 



wrought, not by want o' thought, but by too much 
of it. Bad beemanship is just giving bees time to 

" Many's the time," continued the bee-master, 
thrusting the bowl of his empty pipe into the heart 
of the wood-embers for lustration, and taking a 
clean one down for immediate use from the rack 
over his head; " many's the time an' oft it has come 
ower me that perhaps bees warn't allers as we see 
them now. Maybe, way back in the times when 
England was a tropic country, tens of thousands o' 
years ago, there was no call for them to live packed 
together in one dark chamber, as they do to-day. 
If the year was warm all the twelve months 
through, and flowers allers blooming, there 'ud be 
no need fer a winter-larder, nor fer any hives at all. 
Like as not each woman-bee lived by herself then, 
in some dry nook or other; made her little nest of 
comb, and brought up her own children, happy and 
comfortable. Maybe, even — and I can well believe 
it of her, knowing her natur' as I do — she kept a 
gurt, buzzing, blusterous drone about the place an' 
let him eat and drink in idleness while she did all 
the work, willing enough, for the two. Then, as 
the world slowly cooled down through the centuries, 
there came a short time in each year when the 
flowers ceased to bloom, and the bees found they 
had to put by a store of honey, to last till the heat 
and the blossoms showed up again. And there was 
another thing they must have found out when the 
cold spell was over the earth. Bees that kept apart 
by themselves died of cold, but those that huddled 
together in crowds lived warm enough throughout 
the winter. The more there were of 'em the 


warmer they kept, and the less food they needed. 
And so, as the winters got longer and colder, the 
bee-colonies increased, until at last, from force of 
habit, they took to keeping together all the year 
round. So you see, like as not, 'tis experience as 
has brought 'em to build their cities of to-day, just 
as experience, or the One ye never mention, has put 
the same thing into the hearts o' men." 

A sudden flaw of wind struck the little cottage 
with a sound like thunder, and made the cut-glass 
lustres on the mantle tinkle and glitter in the 
yellow candle-glow. The old bee-man stopped, 
with his pipe half-way to his mouth, nodded gravely 
towards the window, in a kind of obeisance to the 
elements, and then resumed his theme. 

" But there's a many things about bees," he said, 
" that no man 'ull come to the rights of, until all 
airthly things is made clear in the Day o' Days. 
The great trouble and hindrance to bee-keeping is 
the swarm, and a good bee-master nowadays tries 
all he can to circumvent it. But the old habit comes 
back again and again, and often with stocks of bees 
that haven't had a fit o' it for years. Now, did ye 
ever think what swarming must have been in the 
beginning? " 

He suddenly levelled the pipe-stem straight at my 

" Well, 'tis all speckilation, but here's my idee 
o' it, for what 'tis worth. Take the wapses: 
they're thousands of years behind the honey-bee in 
development, and so they give ye a look, so to 
speak, into the past. The end of a wapse-colony 
comes when the females are ready in November; and 
hundreds of them go off to hide for the winter, each 


in some hole or crevice, until, in the warm spring 
days, each comes out to start a new and separate 
home. Well, perhaps the honey-bees did much the 
same thing long ago, when they were all mother- 
bees, in the time when the world was young. And 
perhaps the swarm-fever in a hive to-day is naught 
but a kind o' memory of this, still working, though 
its main use is gone. The books here will tell ye 
o' many other things brought about by swarming, 
right an' good enough with the old-fashioned hives. 
Yet that gainsays nothing. Nature allers works 
double an' treble handed in all her dealings. Her 
every stroke tells far and wide, like the thousand 
ripples you make when you pitch a stone in a pond." 



'T'HERE never comes, in early April, that first 
bright hot day which' means the beginning of 
outdoor work on the bee-farm, but I fall to think- 
ing of old times with a great longing to have them 
back again. 

Modern beemanship, at least to the wide-awake 
folk in the craft, brings in gold pieces now where 
formerly one had much ado to make shillings. But 
profit cannot always be reckoned in money. The 
old mysteries and the old delusions were a sort of 
capital that paid cent per cent if you only humoured 
them aright. Bee-men, who flourished when there 
was a young queen upon the thrcne, wore their 
ignorance as the parson his silk and lawn. It was 
something that set them apart and above their 
neighbours. All that the bees did was put to their 
credit, just for the trouble of a wise wag of the 
head and a little timely reticence. The organ- 
blower worked in full view of the congregation, 
while the player sat invisibly within, so the blower, 
after the common trend of earthly affairs, got all 
the glory for the tune. 



There are no mysteries now in honey-craft. 
Science has dragooned the fairies out of sight and 
hearing as a man treads out sparks in the whin. 
But, though the mysteries have gone, the old music 
of the hives is still here as sweet as ever. This 
morning, when the sun was but an hour over the 
hilltop, I rose from my bed, and, coming down the 
creaking stair through the silence and half-darkness, 
threw the heavy old house-door back. At once the 
level sunshine and the song of bees and birds 
came pouring in together. There was the loud 
humming of bees in the leafing honeysuckle of the 
porch, and the soft low note of the hives beyond. 
In its plan to-day Warrilow Bee-farm reveals the 
whole story of its growth from times long gone 
to the present. All the hives near the cottage are 
old-fashioned skeps of straw, covered in with three 
sticks and a hackle. A little way down the slope 
the ancient bee-boxes begin, eight-sided Stewartons 
mostly, with the green veneer of decades upon 
some of them. Beyond these stand the first rack- 
frame hives that ever came to Warrilow ; and thence, 
stretching away down the sunny hillside in long 
trim rows, are the modern frame-bar hives, spick 
and span in their new Joseph's coats of paint, with 
the gillyflowers driving golden shafts between 
them, until they reach the line of sheds — comb and 
honey-stores, extracting-house, and workshops- 
marking the distant lane-side. 

The Water-carriers 

As I stood in the doorway, caught by the mesmeric 
sheen of the light and the beauty of the morning, the 


humming of the bees overhead grew louder and 
louder. There were no flowers as yet to attract 
them, but in early April the dense canopy of honey- 
suckle here is always besieged with bees, directly the 
sun has warmed the clinging dewdrops. These were 
the water-carriers from the hives. Water at this 
time is one of the main necessities of bee-life. With 
it the workers are able to reduce the thick honey 
and the dry pollen to the right consistency for con- 
sumption, and can then generate the bee-milk with 
which the young larvae are fed. Later on in the 
day the water-fetchers will crowd in hundreds to the 
oozy pond-side down in the valley — every bee-garden 
has its ancestral drinking-place invariably resorted 
to year after year. But thus early the pond-water 
is too cold for safe transport by so chilly a mortal 
as the little worker-bee; so Nature warms a tem- 
porary supply for her here where the dew trembles 
like drops of molten rainbow at the tip of each 
woodbine leaf. 

I drank myself a deep draught from the well that 
goes down a sheer sixty feet into the virgin chalk 
of the hillside, and fell to loitering through the 
garden ways. Though it was so early, the little oil- 
engine down below in the hive-making shed was 
already coughing shrilly through its vent-pipe, and 
the saw thrumming. Here and there among the 
hives my men stooped at their work. The pony was 
harnessing to the cart, and would soon be plodding 
the three-mile-long road to the station with the 
day's deliveries of honey. By all laws of duty I 
should be down there, taking my row of hives with 
the rest — master and men side by side like a string 
of turnip-hoers — busy at the spring examination 


which, as all bee-men know, is the most important 
work of the year. But the very thought of opening 
hives, now in the first warm break of April weather 
or at any time, filled me with a strange loathing. 
So it never used to be, never could be, in the old 
days whose memory always comes flooding back 
to me at this season with such a clear call 
and such a hindrance to progress and duty. 
Then I had as little dreamed of opening a hive as 
opening a vein. I should have done no more than 
I was doing now — passing from one old straw skep 
to another through the sweet vernal sunshine, my 
boots scattering the dew from the grass as I went, 
and looking for signs that tell the bee-man nearly 
all he really needs to know. I shut my ears to the 
throaty song of the engine. I heard the cart drive 
away without a thought of scanning its load. I 
got me down in a little nook of red currant flowers 
under the wall, where the old straw hives were 
thickest, and gave myself up to idle dreams, dreams 
of the bees and bee-men of long ago. 

I should be splitting elder, thought I; splitting 
the long, straight wands to make feeding-troughs. 
I called to mind doing it, here on this self-same 
bench near upon fifty years ago, with my father, 
the woodman, sitting at my elbow learning me. 
We split the wands clean and true, scooped out 
the pith from each half, and dammed up its ends 
with clay. Then, with a handful of these crescent 
troughs and a can of syrup, we went the round of the 
garden together looking for stocks that were short 
of stores. When we found one, we pushed the 
hollow slip of elder gently into the hive-entrance as 
far as it would go, and filled it with syrup, filling it 


again and again throughout the day as the bees 
within drank it dry. 

The Old Style and the New 

A queer figure my father cut in his short grey 
smock and his long lean bent legs encased in 
leathern gaiters, legs between which, when I was 
little, and trotting after him, I had always a fine 
view of the sky. He was never at fault in his 
estimate of a hive's prosperity. The rich clear 
song and steady traffic of a well-to-do bee-nation 
he knew at once from the anxious note and frantic 
coming and going of a starvation-threatened hive. 
It was the tune that told him. Nowadays we just 
rip the coverings from a hive and, lifting the combs 
out one by one, judge by sheer brute-force of 
eyesight whether there be need or plenty. " One- 
thirty-two 1 " — from my sunny seat under the pink 
currant blossom I can hear the call of the foreman 
to the booking 'prentice down in the bee-farm — 
" One-thirty-two — six frames covered — no moth — 
medium light— brood over three — mark R.Q." 
R.Q. means that the stock is to be re-queened at the 
earliest opportunity. She has been a famous queen 
in her time — One-thirty-two. This would have been 
her fourth year, had she kept up her fertility. But 
" brood over three " — that is to say, only three 
combs with young bees maturing in them — is not 
good enough for progressive, up-to-date Warrilow 
in April, and she must be pinched at last. In the 
common course, I never let a queen remain at the 
head of affairs after her second season. Nine out 
of ten of them break down under the wear and stress 


of two summers, and fall to useless drone-breeding 
in the third. 

Already the sun has climbed high, and yet I linger, 
though I know I should be gone an hour ago. The 
darkness, far away as it seems, will not find all done 
that should be done on the bee-farm, toil as hard as 
we may. For these sudden hot days in spring often 
come singly, and every moment of them is precious. 
To-morrow the north wind may be keening under an 
iron-grey sky, and pallid wreaths of snow-flakes 
weighing down the almond-blossom. S'o it happened 
only a year ago, when on the twenty-fifth of April I 
must clear away the snow from the entrance-boards 
of the hives. It is, I think, the unending round of 
business — the itch that is on us now of finding a 
day's work for every day in the year in modern bee- 
craft — which has had most to do with the changed 
times. The old leisure, as well as the old colour and 
mystery, has gone out of bee-keeping. Between 
burning-time in August and swarming-time in May 
there used to be .little else for the bee-master to do 
but smoke his pipe and ruminate and watch the wax 
flowing into the hives. For we all believed that the 
little pellets of many-tinted pollen which the bees 
constantly carry in on their thighs were not food 
for the grubs in the cells, but wax for the comb- 
building. I could believe it now, indeed, if I 
might only sit here long enough; but the busy 
voices are calling, calling, and I must be gone. 



A MONG the innumerable scraps of more or less 
erroneous information on hive-life, dished up 
by the popular newspapers in course of the year's 
round, there is occasionally one which is sure to 
grip the curious reader's attention. No one expects 
nowadays to read of the honey-bee without being 
set agape at the marvellous; but, really, when he is 
gravely told that the nurse-bees in a hive actually 
give the breast to their young, suckling them with 
a secreted liquid which is nothing more or less than 
milk, the ordinarily faithful newspaper student is 
entitled to be for once incredulous. 

The thing, however, in spite of its grotesque 
improbability, comes nearer to the plain truth than 
many another item of bee-life more often encountered 
and unquestionably accepted. There are veritable 
nurse-bees in a hive, and these do produce some- 
thing not unlike milk. In about three days after 
the egg has been deposited in the comb-cell by the 
queen, or mother-bee, a tiny white grub emerges. 
The feeding of this grub is immediately commenced 
by the bees in charge of the nursery quarters of the 



hive, and there is administered to it a glistening 
white substance closely resembling thick cream. 

Analysts tell us that this bee-milk, as it is called, 
is highly nitrogenous in character, and that it has 
a decidedly acid reaction. It is obviously produced 
from the mouths of the nurse-bees, and appears to 
be digested matter thrown up from some part of the 
bee's internal system, and combined with the 
secretions from one or more of the four separate 
sets of glands which open into different parts of 
the worker-bee's mouth. The power to secrete this 
bee-milk seems to be normally limited to those 
workers who are under fourteen or fifteen days old. 
After that time the bee runs dry, her nursing work 
is relinquished, and she goes out to forage 
for nectar and pollen, never, as far as is known, 
resuming the task of feeding the young grubs. But 
if the faculty is not exercised, it may be held in 
abeyance for months together. This takes place 
at the close of each year, when we know that the 
last bees born to the hive in autumn are those who 
supply the milk for the first batches of larvae raised 
in the ensuing spring. 

It is difficult to keep out the wonder-weaving 
mood when writing of any phase of hive-life, and 
especially so when we have this bee-milk under 
consideration. For all recent studies of the matter 
tend to prove several facts about it not merely 
wonderful, but verging on the mysterious. 

In the first place, its composition seems to be 
variable at the will of the bees. The white liquid 
is supplied to the grubs of worker, queen, and drone, 
and not only is its nature different with each, but 
it is even possible that this may be farther modified 


in the various stages of their development. It is 
well ascertained that the physical and temperamental 
differences between queen and worker-bee, widely 
marked as they appear, are entirely due to treatment 
and feeding during the larval stage. That the eggs 
producing the two are identical is proved by the 
fact that these can be transposed without con- 
founding the original purpose of the hive. The 
queen-egg placed in the worker-cell develops into 
a common worker, while the worker-egg, when 
exalted to a queen's cradle, infallibly produces a 
fully accoutred queen bee. The experiment can 
also be made even with the young grubs, provided 
that these are no more than three days old, and the 
same result ensues. 

A close study of the food administered to bees 
when in the larval stage of their career is specially 
interesting, because it gives us the key to many 
otherwise inexplicable matters connected with hive- 
life. We do not know, and probably never shall 
know, how mere variation in diet causes certain 
organs to appear and certain other bodily parts to 
absent themselves. If the difference between queen 
and worker-bee were simply one of development, 
the worker being only an undersized, semi-atrophied 
specimen of a queen, there would be little mystery 
about it. But each has several highly specialised 
organs, of which the other has no trace, just as 
each has certain functions reduced to mere 
rudimentary uselessness, which, in the other, 
possess enormous development and a correspond- 
ing importance. 

Clearly the food given in each case has peculiar 
properties, bringing about certain definite invariable 


results. We are able, therefore, to say positively 
that most of the classic marvels of bee-life are built 
up on this one determined issue, this one logical 
adjustment of cause and effect. The hive creates 
thousands of sexless workers and only one fertile 
mother-bee. It limits the number of its offspring 
according to the visible food supplies or the needs 
of the commonwealth. It brings into existence, 
when necessity calls for them, hundreds of male bees 
or drones, and when their period of usefulness is 
over it decrees their extermination. When the 
queen's fecundity declines, it raises another queen 
to take her place. It can even, under certain rare 
conditions of adversity, manufacture what is known 
as a fertile worker, when some mischance has 
deprived it of its mother-bee and the materials for 
providing a legitimate successor to her are not 
forthcoming. And all these results are primarily 
brought about by the one means, the one vehicle of 
mystery — this wonderful bee-milk playing its part 
at all stages in the honey-bee's life from her cradle 
to her grave. 

For to track down this subtly-compounded elixir 
through all its various uses one must take a survey 
of almost the whole round of activities in the hive. 
The food of the young larvae, whether of queen or 
worker, for the first three days after the eggs are 
hatched, seems to consist entirely of bee-milk. The 
drone-grub gets an extra day of this richly 
nitrogenous diet. And for the remaining two days 
of the grub stage of the bee's life milk is given 
continuously, but, in the case of the worker and 
drone, in greatly diminished supply. Its place 
during these two days is largely taken, it is said, by 


honey and digested pollen in the worker's instance, 
and by honey and raw pollen for the males. 

The queen-grub alone receives bee-milk, of a 
specially rich kind and in unlimited quantity, for the 
whole of her larval life. This " royal jelly," as 
the old bee-masters termed it, is literally poured into 
the capacious queen-cell. For the whole five days 
of her existence as a larva she actually bathes in it 
up to the eyes. But, as far as is known, she 
receives no other food during this time. The 
regular order of her development, and of that of the 
worker-bee, during the five days of the grub stage 
has been carefully studied, and it is curious to note 
that the very time when the queen's special organs 
of motherhood begin to show themselves coincides 
exactly with the moment at which the worker-grub's 
allowance of bee-milk is cut down and other food 

This, no doubt, explains why these organs in the 
adult worker-bee are so elementary as to be 
practically non-existent, and accounts for the 
queen's generous growth in other directions. But 
it leaves us completely in the dark as to the reason 
for the worker's subsequent elaboration of such 
organs as the pollen-carrying device, the so-called 
wax-pincers, and the wax-secreting glands, of which 
the queen possesses none. Nor are we able to see 
how the giving or withholding of the bee-milk 
should furnish the queen with a long curved sting 
and the worker with a short straight one; nor how 
mere manipulation of diet can result in making the 
two so dissimilar in temperament and mental attri- 
butes — the worker laborious, sociable, almost 
preternaturally alert of mind, and withal essentially 


a creature of the open air and sunshine; the queen 
dull of intelligence, possessed of a jealous hatred 
of her peers, for whom all the light and colour and 
fragrance of a summer's morning have no allure- 
ments, a being whose every instinct keeps her, from 
year's end to year's end, pent in the crowded tropic 
gloom of the hive. 

But the bee-milk as well as being the main 
ingredient in the larval food, has other and almost 
equally important uses. It is supplied by the 
workers to the adult queen and drones throughout 
nearly the whole of their lives, and forms an indis- 
pensable part of their daily diet. And this gives 
us a clue in our attempt to understand, not only 
how the population of the hive is regulated, but 
why the males are so easily disposed of when the 
annual drone-massacre sets in. By giving or depriv- 
ing her of the bee-milk, the workers can either stim- 
ulate the queen to an enormous daily output of eggs 
or reduce her fertility to a bare minimum ; and, as for 
the drones, it is starvation that is the secret of their 
half-hearted, feeble resistance to fate. 

Yet though we may recount these things, and 
speak of this mysterious essence called bee-milk as 
really the mainspring of all effort and achievement 
within the hive, it is doubtful whether we have 
solved the greatest mystery of all about it. Of what 
is it composed, and whence is it derived? The 
generally-accepted explanation of its origin is that 
it is pollen-chyle regurgitated from the second 
stomach of the bee, combined with the secretions 
from certain glands of the mouth in passing. But 
the most careful dissections have never revealed 
anything like bee-milk in any part of the bee's 


internal system. Its pure white, opaque quality has 
absolutely no counterpart there : nor, indeed — if 
we are to believe latest investigations — does pollen- 
chyle exist at all in either the first or second 
stomach of the bee, whence alone it could be 
regurgitated. Bee-milk, it would seem, is still a 
physiological mystery, and so may remain to the end 
of time. 



/COUNTRY wanderings towards the end of 
^ summer, even now when the twentieth century 
is two decades old, still bring to light many ancient 
and curious things. Within an hour of London, 
and side by side with the latest agricultural 
improvements, you can still see corn coming down 
to the old reaping-hook, still watch the plough- 
team of bullocks toiling over the hillside, still get 
that unholy whiff of sulphur in the bee-gardens 
where the old-fashioned skeppists are " taking up " 
their bees. 

Burning-time came round usually towards the end 
of August, sooner or later according to the turn of 
the season. The bee-keeper went the round of his 
hives, choosing out the heaviest and the lightest 
stocks. The heaviest hives were taken because they 
contained most honey; the lightest because, being 
short of stores, they were unlikely to survive the 
winter, and had best be put to profit at once for what 
they were worth. Thus a complete reversal of the 
doctrine of the survival of the fittest was artificially 
brought about by the old bee-masters. The most 
vigorous strains of bees were carefully weeded out 

o 209 


year by year, and the perpetuation of the race left 
to those stocks which had proved themselves 
malingerers and half-hearts. 

There was also another way in which this system 
worked wholly for the bad. If a Hive of bees 
reached burning-time with a fully charged store- 
house, it was probably due to the fact that the stock 
had cast no swarm that year, and had, therefore, 
preserved its whole force of workers for honey- 
getting. Under the light of modern knowledge, 
any stall of bees that showed a lessened tendency 
towards swarming would be carefully set aside, 
and used as the mother-hive for future generations; 
for this habit of swarming, necessary under the old 
dispensation, is nothing else than a fatal drawback 
under the new. The scientific bee-master of to-day, 
with his expanding brood-chambers and his system 
of supplying his hives artificially with young and 
prolific queens every third year, has no manner of 
use for the old swarming-habit. It serves but to 
break up and hopelessly to weaken his stocks just 
when he has got them to prime working fettle. 
Although the honey-bee still clings to this ancient 
impulse, there is no doubt that selective cultivation 
will ultimately evolve a race of bees in which the 
swarming-fever shall have been much abated, if not 
wholly extinguished; and then the problem of 
cheap English honey will have been solved. But 
in ancient times the bee-gardens were replenished 
only from those hives wherein the swarming-fever 
was most rampant. The old bee-keepers, in con- 
signing all their heavy stocks to the sulphur-pit, 
unconsciously did their best to exterminate all non- 
swarming strains. 


The bee-burning took place about sunset, or as 
soon as the last honey-seekers were home for the 
night. Small circular pits were dug in some quiet 
corner hard by. These were about six or eight 
inches deep, and a handful of old rags that had been 
dipped in melted brimstone having been put in, the 
bee-keeper went to fetch the first hive. The whole 
fell business went through in a strange solemnity 
and quietude. A knife was gently run round under 
the edge of the skep, to free it from its stool, and 
the hive carefully lifted and carried, mouth down- 
wards, towards the sulphur-pit, none of the doomed 
bees being any the wiser. Then the rag was ignited 
and the skep lowered over the pit. An angry 
buzzing broke out as the fumes reached the under- 
most bees in the cluster, but this quickly died down 
into silence. In a minute or two every bee had 
perished, and the pit was ready for the next hive. 

That this senseless and wickedly wasteful custom 
should have been almost universal among bee-men 
up to comparatively recent times is sufficiently a 
matter for wonder; but that the practice should 
still survive in certain country districts to-day well- 
nigh passes belief. If the art of bee-driving — a 
simple and easy method by which all the bees in a 
full hive may be transferred unhurt to an empty 
one, and that within a few minutes — were a new 
discovery, the thing might be condoned as all of 
a piece with the general benightedness of mediaeval 
folk. But bee-driving was known, and openly 
advocated, by several writers on apiculture at least 
a hundred years ago. By this method, just as easy 
as the old and cruel one, not only do the entire 
stores of each hive fall into the undisputed posses- 


sion of the bee-master, but he retains the colony of 
bees complete and unharmed for future service. 
He has secured all the golden eggs, and the goose 
is still alive. 

Those who desire to make a start in beemanship 
inexpensively might do worse than adopt a practice 
which the writer has followed for many years past. 
As soon as the time for the bee-burners* work 
arrives, a bicycle is rigged up with a bamboo 
elongation fore and aft. From this depend a 
number of straw skeps tied over with cheese-cloth. 
A bee-smoker and a set of driving-irons complete 
the equipment, and there is no more to do than sally 
forth into the country in search of condemned bees. 

It is usually not difficult to persuade the cottage 
apiarist to let you operate on his hives. As soon 
as he learns that all you ask for your trouble is the 
bees, while you undertake to leave him the entire 
honey-crop and a ponr-boire into the bargain, he 
readily gives you access to his stalls. The work 
before you is now surprisingly simple. A few 
strong puffs of smoke into the entrance of the hive 
under manipulation will effectually subdue the bees. 
Then the hive is lifted, turned over, and placed 
mouth upwards in any convenient receptacle — a 
pail or bucket will do, and will hold it as firmly as 
need be. Your own travelling-gear now comes 
into use. One of the empty skeps is fitted over 
the inverted hive. The two are pinned together 
with an ordinary meat-skewer at one point, and then 
the skep is prised up and fixed on each side with 
the driving-irons, so that the whole looks like a 
box with the lid half-raised. Now you have merely 
to take up a position in front of the two hives, and 


begin a steady gentle thumping on the lower one 
with the palms of the hands. 

At first, as the combs begin to vibrate, nothing 
but chaos and bewilderment are observable among 
the bees. For a moment or two they run hither 
and thither in obvious confusion. But presently 
they seem to get an inkling of what is required of 
them, and then follows one of the most interesting, 
not to say fascinating, sights in the whole domain 
of bee-craft. Evidently the bees arrive at a 
common agreement that the foundations of their 
old home have become, from some mysterious 
cause or other, undermined and perilous; and the 
word goes forth that the stronghold must be 
abandoned without more ado. On what initiation 
the manoeuvre is started has never been properly 
ascertained ; but in a little while an ordered discipline 
seems to spread throughout the erstwhile distracted 
multitude. In one solid hurrying phalanx the bees 
begin to sweep up into the empty skep. Once 
fairly on the march, the process is soon completed. 
In eight or ten minutes at most, the entire colony 
hangs in a dense compact cluster from the roof of 
your hive. Below, brood-combs and honey-combs 
are alike entirely deserted. There is nothing left 
for you to do now but carefully to detach the upper- 
most skep : replace the cheese-cloth, thus securing 
your prisoners for their journey to their new home; 
and to set about driving the next stock. 



HTHE bee-master, explaining to an interested 
novice the wonders of the modern bar-frame 
hive, often finds himself confronted by a very awk- 
ward question. He is at no loss for words, so long as 
he confines himself to an enumeration of the hive's 
many advantages over the ancient straw skep — its 
elastic brood and honey chambers, its movable 
combs interchangeable with all other hives in the 
garden, its power of doubling and trebling both 
the number of worker-bees in a colony and the 
amount of harvested honey; above all, its control 
over sanitation and the breeding of unnecessary 
drones. But when he is asked the question: Who 
invented this hive which has brought about such a 
revolution in bee-craft? his eloquence generally 
comes to a dead stop. Perhaps one in a hundred of 
skilled modern bee-keepers is able to answer the 
query. But the ninety-nine will tell you the bar- 
frame hive had no single inventor; it came to its 
latter-day perfection by little and little — the con- 
glomerate result of years of experience and the 
working of many minds. 



This is, of course, as true of the modern bee-hive 
as it is of all other appliances of world-wide utility. 
But it is equally true that everything must have had 
a prime inception at some time, and through some 
special human agency or other; and, in the case of 
the bar-frame hive, the honours appear to be pretty 
equally divided between two personages widely 
separated in the world's history — Samson and Sir 
Christopher Wren. 

Perhaps these two names have never before been 
bracketed together either in or out of print; yet 
that the association is not a fanciful, but in all re- 
spects a natural and necessary one will not be 
difficult to prove. 

The story of how Samson, albeit unconsciously, 
first gave the idea of the movable comb-frame to 
an English bee-master is probably new to most 
apiarians. As to whether the cloud of insects 
which Samson saw about the carcase of the dead lion 
were honey-bees or merely drone-flies, we need not 
here pause to determine. We are concerned for the 
moment only with one modern explanation of the 
incident. This is that, although honey-bees abom- 
inate carrion in general, in this particular case the 
carcase had been so dried and emptied and purified 
by the sun and usual scavenging agencies of the 
desert as to leave nothing but a shell — a very 
serviceable makeshift for a bee-hive, in fact — 
consisting of the tanned skin stretched over the 
ribs of the lion. 

In the summer of 1834 a certain Major Munn was 
walking among his hives, pondering the ancient 
Bible narrative, when a sudden brilliant idea 
occurred to him. Like most advanced bee-keepers 


of his day, he had long grown dissatisfied with the 
straw hive, and his bees were housed in square 
wooden boxes. But these, although more lasting, 
were nearly as unmanageable as the skeps. The 
bees built their combs within them on just the same 
haphazard plan; and, once built, the combs were 
fixed permanently to the tops of the boxes. Now, 
the idea which had occurred to Major Munn was 
simply this : He reflected that the combs built by 
the bees in the dry shell of the lion-skin were 
probably attached each to one of the encircling 
ribs; so that, when Samson took the honey-comb, 
all he need have done was to remove a rib, bring- 
ing the attached comb away with it. Thereupon 
Major Munn set to work to make a hive on the rib- 
plan, which was composed of a number of wooden 
frames standing side by side, each to contain a 
comb and each removable at will. Since that time 
numberless small and great improvements have 
been devised; but, in its essence, the modern hive is 
no more than the dried lion-skin distended by the 
ribs, as Samson found it on that day when he went 
on his fateful mission of wooing. 

The part played by Sir Christopher Wren in the 
evolution of the bar-frame hive, though not so 
romantic, was fraught with almost equal significance 
to modern bee-craft. Movable comb-frames were 
as yet undreamed of in Wren's time, nearly two 
hundred years before Major Munn invented them. 
But Wren seems to have been the discoverer of a 
principle just as important. This was what latter- 
day bee-keepers call " storification." Wren's hive 
consisted of a series of wooden boxes, octagonal in 
shape, placed one below the other, with inter- 


communicating doors, and glass windows in the 
sides of each section. Up to that date bee-hives 
had been merely single receptacles made of straw, 
plastered wattles, or wood. When the stock had 
outgrown its dwelling there was nothing for it but 
to swarm. But by the device of adding another 
story below the first one, when this was crowded 
with bees, and a third or even a fourth if necessary, 
Wren was table to make his hive grow with the 
growth of his bee-colony or contract with its post- 
seasonal decline. He had, in fact, invented the 
elastic brood-chamber, which alone enables the bee- 
master to put in practice the one cardinal maxim of 
successful bee-keeping — the production of strong 

Wren's octagon storifying hive seems to have 
been plagiarised by most eminent bee-masters of his 
day and after with the naive dishonesty so character- 
istic among bee-men of the time. Thorley's hive 
is obviously taken from, indeed, is probably identical 
with, that of Wren. The hive made and sold by 
Moses Rusden, King Charles II. 's bee-master, is of 
almost exactly the same pattern, but it is described 
as manufactured under the patent of one John 
Geddie. This patent was taken out by Geddie in 
1675, and Geddie would appear to be the arch- 
purloiner of the whole crew. For it is quite certain 
that, having had one of Wren's hives shown to him, 
he was not content with merely copying it, but 
actually went and patented the principle as his own 

But Wren's hive, good as it was in comparison 
with the single-chambered straw skep or wooden 
box, still lacked one vital element. Although he 


and his imitators had realised the advantage of an 
expanding bee-hive, this was secured only by the 
process of " nadiring," or adding room below. 
Thus the upper part of Wren's hive always 
contained the oldest and dirtiest combs, and as bees 
almost invariably carry their stores upwards, the 
production of clear, uncontaminated honey under 
this system was impossible. It remained for a 
Scotsman, Robert Kerr, of Stewarton, in Ayrshire, 
to perfect, some hundred and fifty years later, what 
Wren had so ingeniously begun. 

Whether Kerr — or " Bee Robin," as he was called 
by his neighbours — ever saw or heard of hives on 
Sir Christopher Wren's plan has never been 
ascertained. But plagiarism was in the air 
throughout those far-off times, and there is no 
reason to think Kerr better than his fellows. In 
any case, the " Stewarton " hive, like Wren's, was 
octagon in shape, and had several stories; but these 
stories were added above as well as below. By 
placing his empty boxes first underneath the 
original brood-chamber, to stimulate increase of 
population, and then, when the honey-flow began, 
placing more boxes above to receive the surplus 
honey, " Bee Robin " succeeded in getting some 
wonderful harvests. His big supers, full of snow- 
white virgin honey-comb, were soon the talk of 
Glasgow, where he readily sold them. Imitators 
sprang up far and near, and it is only within the 
last twenty-five or thirty years that his hives can be 
said to have fallen into desuetude. 

But probably his success was due not more to his 
invention of the expanding honey-chamber than to 
two other important innovations which he effected 


in bee-craft. The octagonal boxes of Wren had 
fixed tops with a central hole, much lite the straw 
hive still used by the old-fashioned bee-keepers to 
this day. " Bee Robin " did away with these 
fixed tops, and substituted a number of parallel 
wooden bars from which the combs were suspended, 
the spaces between the bars being filled by slides 
withdrawable at will. He could thus, after having 
added a story to his honey-chamber, allow the bees 
access to it by withdrawing his slides from the out- 
side: and when the super was filled with honey- 
comb, the slides were again employed in shutting 
off communication, whereupon the super could be 
easily removed. 

This, however, though it greatly facilitated 
the work of the bee-master, did not account for 
the large yields of surplus honey, which the 
" Stewarton " hive first made possible. In the 
light of modern bee-knowledge, it is plain that a 
big honey-harvest can only be secured by a 
corresponding large stock of bees, and Robert 
Kerr seems to have been the originator of what 
was nothing less than a revolution in the craft. 
Hitherto the bee-keeper had estimated his wealth 
according to the number of his hives, and the more 
these subdivided by swarming, the more prosperous 
their owner accounted himself. But " Bee Robin " 
reversed all this. He housed his swarms not singly, 
but always two at a time; and he made large stocks 
out of small ones by the simple expedient of piling 
the brood-boxes of several colonies together. In 
a word, it was the " Dreadnought " principle 
applied to the peaceful traffic of the hives. 




A New English Classic 

Tenth Edition. Crown 8vo. xxiv +282 pp. ys. 6d. net. 





" An eminently readable book . . . admirably illustrated, 
not unworthy to rank beside the masterpiece of Maurice 
Maeterlinck. " — Times. 

"It must, of course, sound like grossly exaggerated 
praise if one says that a book has appeared in the hustled 
crowd of twentieth-century volumes which is a worthy suc- 
cessor to Gilbert White's ' Natural History of Selborne,' but 
the interest, charm, and ' personality ' of Mr Edwardes' 
work tempt one to class him among- the rare masters of that 
most difficult art which preserves the perfume of country 
joys in printers' ink." — World. 

" A wholly charming- book that should become a 

classic. Nothing; quite so good, or written with such com- 
plete literary skill, has appeared from an English printing- 
press for long enough. ... It deserves a place upon the 
select bookshelf that holds ' The Compleat Angler ' and 
George Herbert's ' Temple ' " — County Gentleman. 

" A work of quite extraordinary interest." — Spectator. 

" A wonderful story . . told with great charm, and 
much delicate literary art." — Daily Telegraph. 

" A fascinating tale. . . . Quite into the front rank of 
writers steps Mr Edwardes, who, in ' The Lore of the Honey- 
Bee ' gives us a book which, while full of information, is 
worth reading for its literary charm alone." — Daily Mail. 

" A volume which shows up the life of the bee in fresh 
and brilliant facets — a book which every bee-lover will 
cherish." — Glasgow News. 

" All the virtues of Maeterlinck's well-known prose epic, 
without its failings. . . . Every page is intensely interest- 
ing. . . . The book is embellished with twenty-four of the 
clearest and best photographs of bee economy that we have 
seen." — Daily News. 

" A lively and informing book . . . the many illustrations 
well chosen, and all good. . . . Mr Tickner Edwardes has 
done nothing so good as this." — Daily Chronicle.